About the Author
Clarence Coo is a resident playwright at New Dramatists, a member of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab, and a 2012–2013 Dramatists Guild fellow. He received his MFA in Playwriting at Columbia University, where he studied under Charles Mee, and is currently the program administrator of the Graduate Writing Program at Columbia’s School of the Arts.
Read an Excerpt
By CLARENCE COO
Yale UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2013 Clarence Coo
All rights reserved.
Cast of Characters
JIMMY a 15-year-old boy
MR. GREEN his 54-year-old high school French teacher
NATE a 15-year-old boy; also the TRADER, FARMER, SEPARATIST, and ANDREW'S VOICE
OFFICER a man in his 30s or 40s; also the WAITER, STRANGER, DE GAULLE, HUDSON, and the HELICOPTER VOICE
Place and Time: Western New York State, Ontario, and Quebec—in the recent past.
Note: The four actors can be of any race.
Scene 1 Mr. Green's Farewell to His Class
MR. GREEN, a 54-year-old high school French teacher in rumpled clothes, addresses his class. He stands next to a wastebasket, holding a stack of papers.
He reads a name off each paper, then drops the sheet into the wastebasket.
MR. GREEN For Edouard—or should I say Ed?—Disappointing.
For Christophe—or should I say Topher?—Deficient.
For Madeleine—or should I say Mei Ling?—Dreadful.
"D." "D." "D." The results of your exam? Definitely deplorable.
Four weeks we spend on two verbs. The result? Disaster!
Two verbs! Granted, they are irregular. But that's no excuse, for these forms—
Do. Not. Change.
They are immutable!
More reliable than the people in your lives. More stable than governments. More dependable than churches or philosophies. These verbs are your deliverance!
Commit the patterns to memory. Determine the person, the number, the tense. Then remember the form. That's all there is. To conjugation.
Conjugation. Such a beautiful word. Such a beautiful act.
Shall we attempt the Imperfect before the final frost of winter? Consider the Conditional before swallows sail back in spring? Sally forth with the Subjunctive before our fecund females ooze out another assemblage of infants?
Or are we stuck in Present Tense forever?
Can you imagine? Stuck in Present Tense? Time would grind to a halt. Time would stand still! No access to the past. No road to the future.
He reads more names and drops more test papers into the wastebasket.
Yes, there are—
For Matthieu—or Matt—Difficulties.
For Rémy—or Rohit—Dangers.
For Brigitte—or Britney—Disorientation.
Like when I was your age: Delirium!
But French. Is. Worth. It.
French is contemplation.
French is inspiration.
French is liberation.
French makes existence bearable.
Perhaps you ponder how your parents persist existing here? Side by side with steel mills dead and derelict for decades?
Perhaps they've numbed themselves cashing unemployment checks to purchase methamphetamines.
But I like to believe it's because, before closing their eyes every night, they whisper into their pillows the honeyed verses of Verlaine and Baudelaire. And all that is weighty and dark in their souls is expelled into vapor.
For that's what I do.
Without French, life would be unfair!
But with French, there is expectation.
For in the past, it was English that capitulated to French. In the year 1066, the Norman French conquered the uncouth Anglo-Saxon. And conveyed to them—culture.
In the year 1066. Because of the French, we sit at the table with refinement. Do we "eat pigs"? No, we "dine on pork." Do we "eat cows"? No, we "dine on beef." Do we "eat cow babies"? No! We "dine on veal."
But alas, the luminosity of French burned too brief over the British Isles. And England's linguistic treasury went bankrupt.
In Chaucer's Prologue to The Canterbury Tales, the Prioress is ridiculed for speaking bastardized French:
He slips into Chaucerian English.
"And French she spake full faire and fetisly, After the school of Stratford-at-Bow, For French of Paris was to her unknow."
He shakes the test papers.
What was this French from "the school of Stratford-at-Bow"? Not a distant cry from what you have here, my impish urchins, your French of Western New York. Your French of this Heart-of-Darkness on the Great Lakes.
Those English barbarians! Brutes! Payback for the Norman Invasion? They dog-paddled panting across the Channel. And burned down—France. For one hundred years. A Hundred Years' War! That's a grand grudge!
But a maid of Orleans appeared on the battlefield. Joan of Arc had a vision. She had a dream. A dream of a world in which children would be judged not by the color of their flags but by the content of their vocabulary. She had a dream. A dream that one day little French boys and little French girls would join hands with little English boys and little English girls and recite the irregular verbs of both their languages.
But like so many beautiful dreams, she went up in smoke.
The English and French were not yet worn down from war. So westward, they watched. They wondered. They wandered. The West. This New World. This America. This spacious sky. This fruited plain. Two empires of linguistic thought competing for amber waves of grain.
The English. Their goals: Spread slavery. Promote religious intolerance. Encourage the use of tobacco.
The French. Their goal. Simply one. The manufacture of stylish hats! Befriend the natives. Who know the way of the beaver. With their shimmery, shiny pelts! For the manufacture of stylish hats!
Two versions of the future. A date was set for the final showdown. The Thirteenth of September, 1759. The Battle of the Plains of Abraham. The locale? In the very heart of New France, in the colony called Canada, outside the walls of Quebec City. The players? General James Wolfe in red. The Marquis de Montcalm in blue. The result? Collision. Collapse. Catastrophe.
So you speak, not the French of Paris, but the English of a frozen, rusty town forgotten by people who live on the other end of the highway.
And so you watch, not the insightful drollery of Molière, but men in too-tight pants tossing an elliptical mass of cowhide.
And so you eat blue cheese, not paired with a glass of fine Bordeaux, but as a dipping sauce for chicken wings and celery sticks.
How then to communicate with you? As that is my duty. My vocation. My contribution to society. To engender a flow of thought from my font of maturity forward to your adolescent gray matter.
He drops more tests into the wastebasket.
Gabrielle? Gabby. French to you is a dead idea.
Pierre? Pete. French to you is a dead end.
Joséphine? Jojo. Speaking French to you is a dead weight.
He scans the room.
Nate? Why are you sitting back there?
A pause. Then he crumples Nate's paper into a ball and drops it into the wastebasket.
Let's not speak French anymore. No. Why should we?
Allow me instead to use a word of Anglo-Saxon origin. One with which I am sure you are all familiar. Its phonology is thus—it begins with a labiodental fricative, progresses to the omnipresent "schwa," and terminates with a voiceless velar plosive:
He throws the rest of the test papers into the air.
And to that, let me add a direct object pronoun. Fuck. You.
Shall I append another modifier? Fuck. You. All.
Fuck this class. Fuck this school. Fuck this town and fuck your idiot parents and fuck your pathetic petty pointless lives.
He lifts the wastebasket and pours the contents out, littering the floor with paper.
Fuck you. Fuck me.
Present participle: "fucking." Passive form: "fucked."
I'm fucked! You're fucked. We're all fucked. But mostly it's me. I'm soooooooo fucked!
He takes a breath.
Undeniably, unconditionally fucked. That's me.
This word? Vulgar. I apologize.
Somebody please call the principal.
English is ugly. Barbaric. Not beautiful at all.
End of scene.
Scene 2 Jimmy and Nate Clean the Classroom
Later that day. JIMMY, a 15-year-old boy, and NATE, another 15-year-old, collect the scattered test papers off the floor and deposit them into the wastebasket. NATE is self-assured. JIMMY is not.
(Offering a test paper to JIMMY.)
JIMMY tries to reach for his test, but NATE pulls it away.
An "A." Of course. You really liked him.
JIMMY Give it to me.
JIMMY folds the test paper neatly and places it in his pocket.
I wonder if he'll be okay.
NATE Mr. Green? Don't worry. He'll be in a better place.
JIMMY I hope that means he'll get help. So he can come back soon.
NATE No, Jimmy. Mr. Green won't be coming back. "A better place" means he got fired. It's a "euphemism." Which, Mr. Green liked to remind us, is Greek for "a beautiful phrase."
JIMMY I like euphemisms.
NATE So did Mr. Green. Until he reached his breaking point.
JIMMY He had a different teaching method, that's all.
NATE Maybe it was a little too different, since he failed like every single one of us. Well, except you.
JIMMY You were one of the best.
You just need to study a little more. I was thinking when we got better, you and me, we could speak French to each other and no one would ever know what we were saying.
NATE Except other people who speak French.
JIMMY Or we could have our own secret language.
NATE Like Mr. Green? I always felt he had his own secret language.
JIMMY Nate, on Friday night, there's a special on the Discovery Channel about Alexander Hamilton's house. About this archaeological dig they're doing there. You want to come over Friday?
NATE Friday? Usually, I love a good archaeological dig. But I'm going to the lacrosse game.
JIMMY Is Connor playing?
JIMMY How about this afternoon? We can go to the creek. Maybe you'll find another arrowhead in the water.
NATE That arrowhead was just a piece of rock. I said it was an arrowhead because I'd been reading that book—
JIMMY The Last of the Mohicans.
JIMMY No, I looked under a microscope. There were like scrapings on the side and everything.
NATE For real?
JIMMY You want it?
JIMMY The arrowhead?
NATE No, you can keep it.
JIMMY It's real. Like a real artifact. What if I made it into a necklace? You could wear it around your neck.
NATE You're the one who's really into Indians.
JIMMY I thought it was your favorite book. About the land before it was America? When there were no cars and it was all trees? When there were no factories and it was all hills? Just Indians and settlers.
I guess you don't want to go back to the creek.
NATE I can't. Last time, I got a tick bite and had this rash. My mom was so mad. She thought I had Lyme disease.
JIMMY We can just hang out in my room. And, you know, play with my microscope.
NATE No, I'm—. Not this week. Okay?
JIMMY You had a lot of time before.
NATE We're sophomores now.
Connor's training for the game. And—he wants me to come watch him practice.
JIMMY Does he know who invented lacrosse? The Indians. Does he know that?
NATE Probably not.
JIMMY You guys hang out a lot. You and Connor, I mean.
NATE Yeah. We're seeing each other.
JIMMY Seeing each other?
NATE It's a euphemism. For dating? That's why we "hang out a lot."
JIMMY You and I can date, too. Like the arrowhead. We can take it to a radiocarbon dating lab and, you know, "date" it.
It's a joke.
NATE Good, you understand.
JIMMY I'm not surprised. In class today, you switched seats. So you could hold hands with Connor.
I wasn't staring. I dropped one of my flashcards, and when I turned to pick it up, I just noticed. That's all.
NATE He was freaking out about the game on Friday. I was trying to make him feel better. He's an athlete. He needs a lot of physical contact.
JIMMY That's nice.
So you're just "hanging out"?
JIMMY You watch movies together? Get ice cream? Picnic?
NATE nods his head.
You make out?
NATE nods his head.
What's it like?
NATE Making out?
NATE With Connor? Or in general?
JIMMY Either. Whatever.
NATE You ever eat yogurt without a spoon? And just use your tongue? And you're trying to get to the fruit at the bottom?
NATE I didn't think you'd want to hear about it.
That's supposed to be fun?
NATE With the right person.
JIMMY Eating yogurt. Without a spoon.
JIMMY I would just get a spoon.
Besides making out?
NATE You said you didn't want to hear about it.
JIMMY I don't.
When was the first time you ate his yogurt?
NATE He asked me for help studying. French.
You said I'm second best in class. After you.
JIMMY Then Connor should have asked me.
NATE But he didn't.
JIMMY His house or yours?
JIMMY Was it a nice house?
NATE He made me mac and cheese.
JIMMY That's not hard. And you studied French?
NATE For the first fifteen minutes.
JIMMY And then?
NATE You can guess.
JIMMY Did you touch his wiener?
I mean—his penis?
NATE Yes. I touched his wiener and his penis.
JIMMY Eewww. And then?
NATE I gave him a blow job.
JIMMY Oral sex!
NATE How much detail do you want?
JIMMY Whatever you're comfortable sharing. So you put his—his penis, in your mouth?
JIMMY And then?
NATE What do you mean "and then"?
JIMMY You put his penis in your mouth and that's oral sex?
NATE There's work involved, too. That's why it's called a "blow job." Don't you watch porn?
JIMMY I prefer historical fiction.
Did you have—anal sex?
NATE Jimmy, let me tell you—First, he was inside me. Then I was inside him. And it was like we were the same person but someone better than either of us and it was the most beautiful thing we had ever felt in our lives.
JIMMY That sounds so—
Was it dirty?
NATE It's like an archaeological dig. You just wash up afterwards.
Hey, lacrosse practice is starting. Connor gets annoyed if I'm late. So—
(Referring to the mess on the floor.)
You can finish that up?
NATE Thanks, buddy. We can hang out again after the game. Okay?
JIMMY collects the rest of the papers from the floor and places them in the wastebasket.
He pulls from his pocket a short loop of cord. Dangling at the end is an Indian arrowhead. He looks at the arrowhead, then drops it into the wastebasket.
End of scene.
Scene 3 Mr. Green Dreams of the Paris Airport
MR. GREEN is going through passport control at the airport in Paris. He is excited to be here.
A passport OFFICER greets him.
MR. GREEN and the OFFICER speak in the clear, stilted style of a foreign-language learning tape.
OFFICER Good day, sir. Do you speak French?
MR. GREEN Yes, I speak French.
OFFICER Good. I speak French, too.
MR. GREEN Good! Good day, sir.
OFFICER Good day.
MR. GREEN How are you?
OFFICER I am fine. How are you?
MR. GREEN I am fine.
MR. GREEN Good!
OFFICER Welcome to Charles de Gaulle Airport! Welcome to Paris. Welcome to France!
MR. GREEN Thank you. You have a lovely country.
OFFICER Thank you. What is your name?
MR. GREEN My name is Everett Green.
OFFICER What a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Green.
MR. GREEN Thank you. The same to you.
OFFICER This is the passport control.
MR. GREEN What a lovely passport control.
OFFICER Thank you. The same to you. May I see your passport?
MR. GREEN Of course. I always carry my passport.
OFFICER What a lovely idea.
MR. GREEN Thank you. This is the first time I have traveled outside my country.
OFFICER But you always carry your passport?
MR. GREEN Yes. It is a lovely idea.
OFFICER What is your country?
MR. GREEN My country is the United States of America.
OFFICER What a lovely country.
MR. GREEN Thank you. The same to you. Now I give you my passport.
OFFICER Thank you. What a lovely passport.
MR. GREEN Thank you. The same to you.
OFFICER What is your age?
MR. GREEN I am fifty-four years old.
OFFICER What is your occupation?
MR. GREEN My current occupation or former occupation?
OFFICER Current occupation.
Currently, I am unemployed.
OFFICER Former occupation?
I was a teacher of French!
OFFICER That is why you speak French!
MR. GREEN I have listened to many language tapes.
Excerpted from Beautiful Province by CLARENCE COO. Copyright © 2013 Clarence Coo. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Foreword, by John Guare.................... vii
Beautiful Province (Belle Province).................... 1