Scene 1: The Catacombs of Paris
Mom: "Hurry up, Tabby! We're going to lose the group."
Dad: (mutters to wife) How an 18 year old girl manages to walk slower than a bus full of senior citizens…
Mom: She's just being difficult.
Dad: She's been like this the whole trip. (Shouting) Come on honey, if you don't hurry up I'm going to give Mrs. Jenks your gold medal for the 100 meter dash.
Mrs. Jenks passes by in her walker, she raises a fist triumphantly. Tabby, a teenage girl, enters from stage right, trudging along. She is dressed for hot summer weather.
Tabby: I don't care, it's from before my ACL anyway. Why won't you give me my phone?
Dad: Burt can wait until we're back at the hotel.
Tabby: Dad! You know I broke up with Burt three months ago.
Dad: Sorry, honey. I thought you'd gotten back together.
Tabby: For like a week. He's just a dumb jock. I was only dating him because he was hot. C'mon I can't "engage with the history" (mocking tone) without my phone.
Mom: When we were in Lyons every time I looked over you were texting on it.
Tabby: I was taking notes!
Mom: To Leah?
Tabby kicks a stone across the ground
Tabby: Why'd we have to come to this place anyway? It's creepy and freezing! Rubs her bare arms to emphasize the point
Mom: Everyone goes to the catacombs when they visit. We were lucky to get a tour group that included it in the package.
Tabby: Oh, I thought they were just coming home.
Dad: (Trying not to chuckle) Don't be rude, Tabby. They've been nothing but nice to you. Plus your great great grandfather is buried here… somewhere…
Tabby turns her back to her parents
Tour Guide: Come along folks, we don't want to get separated. You can get lost in these tunnels for days without seeing another soul.
Tabby's parents go off toward the guide, leaving Tabby behind. The voice of the guide can be heard slowly getting softer in the background as they conduct their tour. The light of the lantern follows them so the only light is coming from stage left where the entrance to the catacombs is
Tabby: I didn't ask to spend my last summer of freedom on a tour bus with a bunch of geriatric historians in provincial France on a family history tour. I mean we're in Paris! I'm single in the city of love and here I am sharing a tiny hotel room with my parents and going on educational tours! Didn't you ever think how I felt?! I don't even speak French except what I learned in High School! Où se trouvent les toilettes?
Tabby turns to realize her parents have disappeared
Tabby: Mom? Dad? Jogs a few steps Mom! Dad! Rebecca and Frank LaLonde! Where are you?! Jogs off stage left and then back on from backstage left Mom! Dad! She stops running Figures you'd leave me behind in this creepy place. Grips her arms again though more from fear than cold, taking a few steps backward she trips over a skull with a smallish face. What was that! Kneels down and pokes at the thing, immediately drawing back as though it were a venomous snake Eww! A skull! (addresses her absent parents) You could have at least given me back my phone so I'd have something to do! They have Tinder in France, right? I could be swiping right on some cute French guy right now instead of tripping over some gross skull.
Huffs, sits down next to the skull
Tabby: They say whenever you get separated from the group you should stay where you are until they come back. Waits in the flickering light of the room, after a few minutes she pulls a folded up piece of paper from her shorts and begins to unfold it. How long is this tour anyway? Looks at the opened paper. Two Hours! Falls backward onto the ground. Ugh! Props herself up on her elbows and takes in the room of bones for a minute. Who lives, who dies, who tells your story? Turns to the skull. That's from Hamilton. It's a musical about Alexander Hamilton. You were probably dead before he was even born.
My school wasn't able to afford the whole thing but the drama club did a review of it at the end of the year. I got to play Eliza, while Beth Thompkins got stuck with Peggy. She shouldn't even have gotten that. They only gave her the part because her mom is the President of the Chorale Boosters. She was mad because I wasn't even part of the chorus and she'd been in it "all four years." I only joined the drama club after I tore my ACL my sophomore year and couldn't run for the rest of the year. See, you can see the scar from the surgery. She traces a scar on her knee. (Dejected) You probably don't even know what an ACL is.
(Song: Who Am I, What am I After?)
Kids like me are marching in the streets, speaking on tv
What about me?
They're winning golden medals and making works of art
But I was stopped before I could even start.
I was going to stand on that podium
and hear those speakers blaring the American Anthem
I was going to hold that golden medal up for the world to see.
But now that dream is gone,
What's going to become of me?
Who am I? What am I after?
I used to know these things, but now I don't remember
I was once the runner with a clear path ahead of me
But now, who am I? What am I after?
All my friends know who they are, like they have a fire within
I used to have a fire, too, but now it's gone so dim
They get to follow their dreams to Duke and Yale and Wake
And I get to go to The Ohio State
Who am I? What am I after?
I once had a dream, I once had a passion
I knew where I was going and every step in between
But now, who am I? What am I after?
I'm walking alone down a dark corridor
Trying to find the place I was before
But every step I take only brings me further from my dreams
And to leave them behind is tearing me apart at the seams!
Who am I? What am I after?
I can't find my direction in all of this blackness
I've lost my way and I don't think it can be found
Who am I? I'm nobody... and I'm nowhere bound...
My mom wanted to go on this stupid trip, she wants me to be a history major just like her. She never even asked me if I wanted to go. And Dad wanted me to see the "land of my ancestors." My ancestors were a bunch of boring peasants from boring peasant towns who never did anything with their lives. Like me.
(Sings) Who am I? I'm nobody... and I'm nowhere bound...
I'm just going to end up a barista at Starbucks or something. The 21st century peasant equivalent. Talking to a creepy skull in a creepy French catacomb. Where did you come from anyway? They probably don't just have skulls lying around on the floor.
Tabby gets up and looks around until she sees a blank space in the wall where the skull would fit.
Ah! There it is!
She picks up the skull and fits it into the gap. As she withdraws her hands she says, What's your story? There's a flash of light and pitch darkness. She is momentarily stunned. That was weird. Suddenly realizes she touched a skull. Ew! Wipes hands on her shorts. Ugh I wish I had my hand sanitizer! She squints into the darkness. I think I see the entrance. I'm going back up before this day gets any worse. I can wait at the Café across the street by the gardens. Mom! Dad! If you can hear me I'm going to wait at the cafe! So long, Skully. She waves from backstage left without realizing the skull has disappeared.
Scene 2: Rue St. Denis (Formerly Avenue Denfert – Rochereau)
Tabby climbs up from the catacombs to see a bunch of men march past in powder blue military uniforms from the 18th century of France. Ugh! Re-enactors. I wonder if they're going to stage a battle of something? As she looks around she notices that there are lots of people in peasant clothes milling about and they look like they're doing business. The whole place looks dirty and old. She sees the garden is still there, but no café. They must be filming a movie or something. I should just go back to the hotel. I'm hardly dying to go to that stupid park and look at statues either. Maybe I can find an internet café on my way. It was just up this street. People are gawking at her as she sets off, though she remains unaware, a few men trip over themselves staring at her while women cover the eyes of their children. Darn it, nothing looks familiar! She tries to get the attention of several women but they pointedly ignore her. Excuse me, ma'am! Sir, could you… I guess not. Excuse me! A man (Jean-Paul) approaches her.
Jean-Paul: (French) How do you do?
Tabby: I am good. Can you tell me how to get to the Grand Hotel Saint Michel?
Jean-Paul: Of course, follow me. He takes her by the elbow and begins leading her away.
Tabby: Excuse me, sir; that way doesn't look familiar.
Jean-Paul: It is a short cut. He leads her back to the catacombs entrance
Tabby: Tugs away but Jean-Paul keeps his grip. Sir, this is the wrong way.
Jean-Paul: Gestures to the catacombs which are little more than sewers now No my dear, this is where I live. Don't worry, I may not have much money, but I can pay you in food. You obviously aren't picky, dressed like that. Why you're practically naked in the street!
Tabby: You're disgusting! Stomps on his foot and tears away, running off stage right. After a minute she re-enters from stage left. She looks disgustedly behind where she came from. Le Scumbag. What did he mean "practically naked in the street?" It's the middle of July! Everyone's dressed like this. Looks around. Well, not everyone here… Maybe he was security and he was trying to be funny. But he seemed serious. Ma'am, can you tell… Woman ignores her. No, of course not. Walks around taking in the scene. They really wanted to make this look authentic. But wasn't there a McDonalds right here? No, I know there was. You can't just get rid of a McDonalds in an hour, I don't care how much you're spending on your movie. What is going on here?! She is becoming increasing terrified and frantic, looking for some kind of answers.
Tabby reads a fancy document posted over a window
Tabby: …to honor the coronation of King Louis XVI of France in the year of our Lord 1775! Places a hand on her head. No. No no no no no. This has to be… It can't be… It's got to be a prop. She turns around slowly taking in the scene. There's no such thing as time travel. I must be going crazy. I just need a cop to find me and then they'll pump me full of meds and everything will turn back to normal. I'm not really in 1775. She starts to hyperventilate. A man grabs at her, she ducks away. I need to do something about these clothes.
Scene 3: Evening, at a doorway leading to a darkened salon near the College Louis-le-Grand
Tabby walks on from stage right wrapped in a sheet like a cloak, standing in front of the door to the salon. She shakes her head.
Tabby: It really wasn't there. The shops, the cars, the Eiffel Tower, the hotel. It's all gone. It's some college now. What can I do? I don't speak French and itt's getting dark and my money is worthless and I'm starving.
The lights come up in the Salon and a group of young men can be heard talking happily..
Tabby: Maybe I could stay here for a few hours, just until I can figure out what to do next. Tabby slips into the salon and sits at a table.
Tabby is not sitting there long when a group of young men come walking in to the Salon in a jubilant mood with a young man about her age with a smallish face and glasses between them. They appear to be congratulating the young man. Tabby can't help but stare at him as he is pretty cute to her.
Student 1: It's the man of the hour!
Student 2: They couldn't have chosen a better one to represent the school!
Student 3: Let me buy you a drink, keep that golden voice of yours in good shape.
Max: smiles slightly It'll be months before I speak before the king.
Student 3: All the more reason to start now!
Student 1: You'll be mere feet from the King of France, he's going to hear your voice speaking to him for his coronation. Nobody speaks finer.
Student 2: You'll do us all proud.
(Drinking Song: They buy him drinks and sing his praises as the brightest student at the school, the one with the great future as a lawyer and an orator and an inspiration to the scholarship students. Mentioned things: his status as conceived out of wedlock, his provincial accept being covered by his superb Latin, the child of a lawyer and a brewer's daughter, and raised by his grandparents, his love of Cicero and Rousseau.)
After the song, as his friends are carousing in grand spirits, Max plops down on the bench seat next to Tabby, who he seems not to have noticed. He is despondent.
Max:(mutters) But they will not be my words.
Tabby: (more to herself as a recitation of a memory) It doesn't matter who wrote them, it's how you say them that matters.
Max: What did you say?
Tabby:(more confidently) It doesn't matter who wrote them, it's how you say them that matters.
Tabby: The words... they... I'm sorry (mutters to self) How do I even begin to tell him? I don't know French! It was stupid of me to bother him.
Max: I assure you, you are no bother. You speak English, then?
Max: It is nothing to be ashamed of. My English is far from perfect, but it should be good enough. You are from the colonies, no?
Tabby: confused The colonies... Recalling it is 1775 and understanding his meaning Yes! But how did you...?
Max: smiling brightly. How did I know? It is a simple matter. I regret to say I've never actually met anyone from the colonies, but I've met enough Englishmen to know what they sound like. And since your accent was like none of theirs I figured you must be from the colonies. That was some Tea Party, I believe they called it.
He is handsome when he smiles and speaks and Tabby finds herself momentarily struck.
Tabby: Oh, oh yes.
Max: And I have heard they have organized their own congress. Parliament is quite furious, but it is all quite fascinating. I mean, of course, they won't succeed, but to see colonies stand up to their king like that... it is inspiring.
Tabby: (offended) And who says they won't win? Of course we will.
Max: (laughs) You sound awfully confident, but we both know it is impossible. The British have the second best armed forces in the world. Of course, (he winks) France has the best.
Tabby: We'll still win.
Max: (indulgently chuckling) And how will you do that when even the French haven't been able to beat them? Does America even have a military?
Tabby: Taking a moment to remember We have a militia led by General George Washington. Her head bobs up and down as she mouths something that look like lyrics. And the French will help.
Max: (laughs loudly) The French will help? Mademoiselle, we can barely help ourselves! Why would we get involved in some fight between colonies and their own country?
Tabby: Thinking but coming up empty. I don't know, but you will. Some of your countrymen will want to help the cause of Liberty and self-governance.
Max: And to stick it to the English, perhaps. Thinking But you know, it might work, if we supported the English Colonies in their bid for independence it would force the British to spend a lot of money and resources fighting to keep them - and of course they would. It's almost unheard of for a colony to revolt and succeed. If one does, others may be inspired and fall as well... Not that we're in any position to help, of course... But if they did win, and that is a very sizable if, we could use it to create united trade from the colonies to us.
Tabby: Don't you believe liberty is worth fighting for in itself?
Max: places his hand on Tabby's Oh no, I do. You mistake me. But I don't believe our new King Louis feels the same way.
Tabby: Do you like him?
Max: (smiles) I suppose I should expect as much from the colonies. He's the king, whether I like him or not is not important. He's not been much of note as a prince, but I cannot say that is necessarily bad. At least he's been more marked by smallpox than by scandal. Perhaps power will make the man as they say.
Tabby: Aren't you supposed to give a speech to him?
Max: Yes. Yes and now we have come back around to where we began. Max positions Tabby's hand so he is now holding it. What did you mean?
Tabby: clearly discomfited by his charm About what?
Max: When you said it didn't matter who wrote the words, only how I said them.
Tabby: Oh, well... what I meant was that you can convey more meaning to words by how you say them even more than the words themselves. Like take "It's done." Two words but when I say it this way, (energetic, peppy) "It's done!" It means something completely different from when I say (seriously, with a mob hitman expression) "It's done." Or even (sadly, head hung down) "It's done." You could be saying utter nonsense but the tone you use and your expression will tell your audience what you really mean. So even if they aren't your words, the meaning you choose to convey by how you say them is your own.
Max: Perhaps you are right. More than right, even. It is to be in Latin and even in the first estate it might be more than he knows well, but proper elocution might elevate it that he would know my meaning even if his exhaustion from the coronation has stolen his translation abilities. He may not know my words, but he will know I mean each and every one of them.
Tabby: Someday maybe he'll know your written words as well.
Max: (laughs) I can only wish it. Chances are this will be the only time I address His Grace in my life, which is more than any man here can ever hope to say. For one moment the sovereign of France will see me, not as just another part of a crowd, but as a man. As one of the great talents in his kingdom. It is a culmination of all my hard work. I may have been born nothing, but soon I will address a king.
Tabby: Born nothing?
Max: Well not exactly nothing, my father and grandfather were well-respected lawyers in Arras, and I intend to follow in their footsteps.
Tabby: A lawyer? My father would love you. What type of law will you be studying?
Max: Well, a lawyer is not my end goal, I intend to return to my hometown of Arras and become a judge in the criminal court. As judge I will be able to affect a change in the administration of the death penalty.
Tabby: (nervously) In what way?
Max: Its abolishment. It is little more than State-sanctioned murder.
Student 1: (drunkenly) Oh no, you've gotten him on about the death penalty. I hope you're comfortable little lady, you'll be here for a while.
Max: (to the student who is starting to wander off) I think you'll agree it is a barbaric practice. No civilized society should kill its own citizens no matter how bad their crimes! (to Tabby) Death ends a man's chance to repent of his crimes and be useful to society. The civilized society must focus its efforts on rehabilitation of the criminal if possible, and containment and care if not so. I recognize the crime may be terrible, but what does murder do to repair it? It won't bring back the dead or heal the harmed. They say it is a deterrant to prevent crime, but I ask you, then, if that were true than how, in the thousands of years it has been practiced has crime not completely ceased to exist. No! It still goes on unabated. In fact, I submit to you the death penalty does not deter crime but increases it!
Student 2: Strikes Max playfully on the shoulder. You'd better stop now, mon frere, if you want any hope of waking up with this petit femme in your bed tomorrow morning.
Max: Almost stands in his objection to Student 2. You know that is not my intention-
Tabby: Blushing, squeezing Max's hand. No, it's fine, I find it fascinating.
Max: You do? Settles back down with an almost smug look on his face.
Tabby: Yes. And the way you speak about it with such passion... I wish I felt so much for something. I could listen to you talk about it all night.
Max: I would like very much to oblige you on that. Gets knocked into by the butt of one of his fellow drunken students. But perhaps he is correct that here is not the place for it. May I walk you home?
Tabby: (Evasively) But what about the party? Isn't it in your honor?
Max: They won't miss me, I am merely the excuse for it. They will happily find another when they realize I've gone. So please, do not let that dissuade you.
Tabby: (sighs heavily) The truth is I have no home. I was separated from my parents earlier today and I don't know if I'll ever see them again. Starts to cry. I don't have any money and I don't speak the language! I don't even have the right clothes!
Max: (intrigued) The right clothes?
Tabby opens the sheet quickly
Max: His eyebrows fly up in surprise. (Slightly flustered) Oh well - I- I see. Adjusts his fogged up glasses. Well there must be something we can do. Ponders for a moment. Perhaps you might come back to the school with me - no, I don't mean to take advantage of your need - but I'll speak with abbé Hérivaux about finding you a position. I know we are always short of maids. Then you will be able to stay at the university and earn money. As for French, if you do not object, perhaps I might teach you after your duties are done for the day?
Tabby: (elated) Do you mean it?
Max: I would not have suggested it otherwise.
Tabby throws her arms around him
Tabby: Oh thank you! Realizes that what she's done might be scandalous and draws back quickly, Max is in quite a flustered state now, blushing with his glasses askew. I mean, thank you, sir. You are too kind.
Max: (still recovering, but smiling) Not at all. I shall be glad to have a woman with such exotic ideas to speak with.
Tabby: (tears coming to her eyes) But you have been so kind to me and you don't even know my name.
Max: Your name? Is it not Calliope? The most eloquent of Muses come down to inspire a poor boy like me?
Tabby: (Laughs) No.
Max: Are you certain? For you are as wise and bold and beautiful as she. And it would explain your strange clothing.
Tabby: No, my name is Tabby. I mean, Tabitha LaLonde.
Max: Ah! So you are French.
Tabby: My father is.
Max: I am Maximilian Robespierre, at your service. He gives a flourish of his hand.
Tabby: Tilts her head to the side, crinkling her brows.
Max: What is it, my lady?
Tabby: Nothing, the name just sounded familiar is all.
Max: Perhaps from when Zeus whispered it in your ear before he sent you to me.
Tabby: I am not a Muse! (laughs at a Queen Victoria joke only she could get, but he laughs along) Do I call you Maximilian, then?
Max: You may call me whatever you like - Max, Maxim, Maximilian, just so long as you never call me Monsieur Robespierre for I should never wish you to be so formal with me.
Tabby: Then I shall call you Maxim. It suits you.
Max: (flirtatiously) And how do you mean?
Tabby: Because maxims state truths, Looks up into his eyes. Like you.
Max is completely undone by this, he blushes and gazes at her with a deep romantic fondness subdued by shyness.
Max: Standing, turned away from Tabby so she can't see what she's done to him We had best be off before the Abbe goes to bed.
Tabby: Yes, of course. Thank you again, Maxim.
He stiffens at being called Maxim, but holds out his arm, which she takes, and he leads her out of the Salon.