Strangers, or Les Inconnus — Anne Marie Wells
CAST OF CHARACTERS
ANDY – Young American tourist in France. He speaks no French. He’s kind of naive, but very friendly.
NADINE – Elderly French local. She speaks no English. She’s kind of stuck in the past, but happily shares her tales of woe with anyone who will listen –
even if they don’t understand what she’s saying.
PHILIPPE – French café owner. Sarcastic and a little mean, but has a soft spot for NADINE, maybe because she keeps coming back to spend time with him despite his hardened exterior.
Place: Porspoder (pronounced por-poh-DARE) A small town in northwestern France.
(At Rise: An elderly woman, NADINE, sits alone with her small teapot and plate of madeleines at a two-top table looking away from the audience. She wears many layers of sweaters with a shawl around her shoulders and a handkerchief up her sleeve. Maybe she takes a sip of her tea, or wipes her nose from time to time with her handkerchief. Bells jingle as the cafe door opens and a young man in his late teens/early 20s, ANDY, walks in soaked. There’s a stand with umbrellas by the entrance. ANDY attempts to shove his inside out umbrella into the stand. Maybe he succeeds in triumph with a satisfactory “Awesome!,” or maybe he gives up and lets his soggy umbrella lay on the floor next to the stand with an exasperated “Ugh!”)
My god! This rain
(NADINE turns to scowl at Andy’s outburst.)
Of course the one place that’s open is packed. (To NADINE) Excuse me, can I sit here?
(NADINE plays dumb. Can she understand him, or not? We’re not sure.)
(Miming but also shouting) Can I sit here?
Bien sûr jeune homme, prenez place, mais Bon Dieu ce que vous êtes bruyant. (Beat) J’ai l’impression, que si j’avais refusé, cela ne vous aurait pas arrêté pour autant… Ah ces Américains.
[Of course, young man, sit down, but good God, you’re just a tad loud. (Beat) I have the impression that if I refused, it wouldn’t stop you anyway… Americans.]
(Taking off his jacket and cap)
Hah! Did you guess I was American? Was it the baseball cap? I don’t even wear a cap most of the time, it just looked like rain today. And I was right!
(ANDY sits and looks around. He takes the liberty of warming his hands around NADINE’s teapot. That’s just like an American. NADINE stares at ANDY with a little smile she hopes conveys her disapproval. So French.)
Not a seat left in the place, and apparently not a single person working either.
(ANDY looks around from his seat.)
Do you know if I have to go somewhere to order? A counter or something?
(NADINE stares at him and shrugs her shoulders. ANDY repeats his question trying to mime what he’s asking. Maybe he even gets out of his chair to play this game of charades.)
Do you know if I have to go to a counter to order?
(NADINE can’t help but giggle at his display.)
I’ll just wait, I guess.
(ANDY sits uncomfortably not knowing what to say. He goes to say something a couple times, but decides against it.)
C’est curieux, on ne voit pas souvent de jeunes de votre âge par chez nous à Porspoder. Au mieux, ces “hipsters” – j’ai appris ce terme aux informations – viennent à la recherche de coins branchés. Et il y a bien aussi quelques allemands de temps à autre, mais le plus souvent les américain vont plus au Sud, vers Nantes ou les Îles. Mais de vous à moi, Philippe – le propriétaire – il n’aime pas trop les américains… Donc ce n’est pas plus mal qu’il n’y en ait pas beaucoup dans le coin.
[It’s curious. You don’t see young people your age around our town of Porspoder very often. At best, those “hipsters” – I learned that word from the news – come looking for underground hotspots. And, there are of course some Germans from time to time, but mostly the Americans go more south toward Nantes or the Islands. But between you and me, Philippe – he’s the owner – he doesn’t like Americans so much… so it’s not so bad that there aren’t many around.]
I think you said something about “Nantes.” I was just in Nantes and the Islands south of here. I came with my grandpa. It’s my grandpa’s first trip since my grandma passed away last year.
(ANDY and NADINE to speak for a moment. Then, pointing his two index fingers towards his face…)
C’est une tradition chez vous de tous vous appeler Andy? Ou les hommes là-bàs ont d’autres prénoms?
[Is it a tradition in the States to name all of you Andy? Or do the men over there have other names too?]
(Pointing her two index fingers towards her face more in mockery than in earnest)
Pretty name. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Nadine.
(Reaching out to touch NADINE’s shawl)
I like your shawl.
Oh il te plait ce châle? C’est un cadeau de ma mère, elle l’a fait à la main il y a de cela bien longtemps. Elle me l’a légué peu avant de mourir. Ma pauvre maman n’a pas survécu longtemps après la disparition de mon père. J’étais supposée me marier avec ce châle, mais mon père est mort quelques semaines avant le mariage. Alors j’ai annulé la fête. C’était une période très difficile pour ma maman et moi. Mon fiancé est retourné aux Etats Unis parce qu’il ne pouvait pas supporter mon profond désespoir. Je ne l’ai jamais revu après ça. Quant à ma mère… elle a suivi mon père dans la tombe. Donc c’est l’unique souvenir qu’il me reste de tout ça. Mon destin était d’épouser le célibat. On est très heureux ensemble.
[Oh do you like this shawl? It was a present from my mother, she made it by hand a long, long time ago. She left it to me shortly before she died. My poor mom didn’t survive long after my father passed. I was supposed to get married with this shawl, but my father died a few weeks before the wedding. So, I cancelled the event. It was a very hard time for me and my mom. My fiancé returned to the States when he couldn’t handle my deep despair. I never saw him again after that. And then my mother… She followed my father to the grave. So, it’s my only remaining artifact from all that. My destiny was to marry celibacy. We are very happy together.]
I think I heard the word “fiancé?” Congratulations?
(ANDY and NADINE don’t speak for a moment.)
When another table opens up, I’ll nab it and get out of your hair. I’m waiting for my grandpa. He should be here any minute. We’re staying at Le Chateau de Sable . (ANDY pronounces Sable as sah-blay) down the street. He’s probably just waiting for the rain to die down before making his way over.
(ANDY is just as confused as NADINE. Why does he keep talking to her when he knows she can’t understand him?)
Ah Le Château de Sable, c’est vraiment mignon dans ce coin-là. Vous êtes un garçon charmant – pour un américain je veux dire. Je vais appeler le serveur pour vous.
[Ah Le Château de Sable, it’s really cute there. You are a charming boy – for an American, I mean. I’ll call the server over for you.]
(NADINE lifts her hand in the air.)
(In a sing-songy voice)
Excusez-moi, nous voudrions commander!
[Excuse me, we’d like to order!]
(PHILIPPE enters, grungy, with a towel over his shoulder and a cigarette in his mouth.)
Could I see a menu, please?
(Turning to NADINE)
Besoin de quelque chose d’autre Nadine ?
[Do you want something else, Nadine?]
Mon petit Philippe, je suis déçue. Tu disais que tu allais arrêter de fumer.
[My dear Philippe, I’m disappointed. You said you were going to quit smoking.]
Toi, ma mère, mon mec – Tout le village parle de ça. Peut être que je peux vivre ma vie comme je l’entends, non?
[You, my mother, my partner – The whole village is talking about it. Maybe I could live my life how I want? No?]
D’accord, d’accord, oublie ce que je viens de dire, t’es pardonné
[Ok, ok. Forget what I just said. You are forgiven.]
(Miming the sign of the cross)
Merci Mon Dieu, elle m’a pardonné. Avec tout ce que je t’offre comme thé et madeleine, c’est bien aimable de ta part, ma chère. Ca me fait plaisir que tu me pardonnes.
[Thank God, she forgave me. With all the tea and Madeleines I give you, it’s very generous on your part, my dear. It makes me so happy that you forgive me.]
(ANDY is watching their exchange confused. Are they arguing about his order? What is happening?)
Oh Philippe, fais moi plaisir, parlons d’autres choses, tu veux bien? Comment va Grégoire? Toujours plongé dans son travail ?
[Oh Philippe, do me a favor and talk about something else, would you? How is Grégoire? Still buried in his work?]
Qui ? Grégoire ? Ah oui, l’homme avec qui je vis ? L’homme de ma vie? Oh oui, toujours passionné par son travail, je ne le vois presque jamais.
[Who? Grégoire? Ah yes, the man I live with? The man of my dreams? Oh yes, still a workaholic, I almost never see him.]
Si ca peut te faire plaisir, je peux venir plus souvent pour te voir.
[If it’d make you happy, I can come over more often to see you.]
Bah oui, bien sur, c’est totalement ce dont j’ai besoin, t’avoir dans mes jambes comme un chat errant.
[Yea, of course, that’s totally what I need, to have you in my lap like a stray cat.]
Tu sais aussi bien que moi que je suis ton chat errant favori. Si tu ne voulais pas que je vienne ici, il fallait arrêter de me nourrir. (Exaggeratedly) Quand bien même, tu ne pourrais pas me chasser, tu sais, je suis déjà si vieille. Je ne vais plus vivre très longtemps. Ta conscience ne te le permettrait pas.
[You know as well as I do that I’m your favorite stray cat. If you didn’t want me to come here, you would have stopped feeding me. (Exaggeratedly) You couldn’t kick me out, you know, I am already so old, I’m not going to live much longer. Your conscience wouldn’t let you.]
Je vais te construire un cercueil en forme de madeleine.
[I’ll start building you a casket in the shape of a madeleine.]
(Taking PHILIPPE’s hand, ignoring his comment.)
Ce que tu es drôle Philippe ! Mais ne t’inquiète pas. Je ne viendrai pas te rendre visite plus souvent – je ne supporte pas l’odeur du tabac froid qui règne chez toi.
[You are so funny, Philippe! But don’t worry. I won’t visit more often – I can’t stand the cold smoke smell that lingers at your place.]
(PHILIPPE acts annoyed)
Mon cher Philippe, que ferais tu sans moi ? Ne t’énerve pas. D’ailleurs, je suis prête à parier que ce jeune américain se ferait un plaisir de m’offrir ma commande, peut-être même celles des autres jours, si tu vois ce que je veux dire.
[My dear Philippe, what would you do without me? Don’t get annoyed. Besides, I bet that this young American here is going to pay my tab, maybe even my tab from days ago, if you catch my drift.]
Pff les touristes… Les pires de tous restent les américains. On va rire un peu avec lui. Pour une fois qu’on peut s’amuser ici…
[Pff. Tourists… the worst of them all are the Americans! I’m going to have a little fun with him. For once I get to entertain myself around here…]
Oh, Philippe, sois gentil.
[Oh, Philippe, be nice.]
(To Andy) So, dude, do you want to order something?
(PHILIPPE pulls a crumpled piece of paper from his back pocket and hands it to ANDY.)
Here’s the menu.
Americano? Espresso? Ristretto? Cappuccino? Macchiato? Latté?
(This is a test and ANDY knows it. ANDY looks at NADINE who gives him no help answering the Sphinx’s riddle).
I’ll have whatever you’d have yourself.
(PHILIPPE finger guns to ANDY with a click of his tongue.)
How ‘bout some madeleines? (Beat) On the house.
Great! Thank you! Merci!
Vous savez, plus je m’assois ici avec vous, plus vous m’avez l’air familier.
[You know, the more I sit here with you, the more you look familiar.]
That was nice of you to get a server over here for me. Oh shoot! I should have ordered something for my grandpa. Ah well, when he gets here, I’ll just tell him we should go somewhere else. This place kinda sucks. (Beat) Not you though!
(NADINE reaches for her purse)
Oh no, no. Please let me get the tab, I insist.
(NADINE pulls out an old photograph and puts her purse down.)
Regardez ca. Cette photo, je l’ai gardée en souvenir pendant très longtemps, surtout pour me rappeler mes plus belles années. La plage de la presqu’île Saint Laurent…, pas loin d’ici, mais c’était il y a 40 ans. Les jambes que j’avais à l’époque! Je faisais tourner toute les têtes, hein!
[Look at this. I’ve kept this photo for such a long time, mostly to remind me of the good ol’ days. The beach on Saint Laurent Peninsula, right by here, but 40 years ago. The legs I had at the time! I made heads turn, boy!]
(Pointing at the photo)
C’est moi là.
[That’s me there.]
(Pointing to the photo and to NADINE)
Is that you?
What a babe!
(NADINE looks confused. PHILIPPE returns with an espresso and a shot of whiskey. No madeleines.)
I THINK YOU’RE HOT! BEAUTIFUL! PRETTY!
(PHILIPPE looks puzzled. ANDY bumbles over his explanation of his outburst. PHILIPPE puts his hands up in surrender as he exits. Far be it from him to judge another person’s sexual preferences. Maybe NADINE is dating an American teenager. He wouldn’t put it past her.)
(ANDY sniffs the shot glass.)
Oh my god, it’s like 10 AM! (Beat) And no Madeleines. So French.
Le jeune homme dans le coin là, je ne me rappelle plus vraiment son visage. Un simple touriste, qui venait de Floride, et qui bronzait sur la plage quand nous nous sommes rencontrés. Il n’arrêtait pas de nous dire à quel point les plages de Key West étaient “so rad”.
[The young man in the corner there, I can’t even really remember his face. Just a tourist from Florida, tanning on the beach when we met. He would not stop talking about how the beaches in Key West were “so rad.”]
Key West? Was this photo taken in Key West? Awesome! I’ve been there a few times. I grew up in St. Louis, but my grandparents live in Florida so we’d go to visit them down there every Christmas. This is the first winter we didn’t go. We just couldn’t. It’d be too sad.
Nous avions fini par coucher ensemble (Laughing). C’était l’époque de la Révolution Sexuelle, vous savez. Etait-ce une erreur ? Peut être. J’ai fini par brûler toutes nos autres photos, vous vous en doutez. Celle-ci est la seule qui ait survécu, grâce à une amie qui essayait un appareil flambant neuf à l’époque. J’avais oublié ce moment, mais vois-tu… (pointing at ANDY and the photo) tu me le rappelles, sans doute parce que vous êtes américains tous les deux.
[We ended up sleeping together. (Laughing) It was the sexual révolution at the time, you know. Was it a mistake? Maybe. I ended up burning all our other photos, you can imagine. This one is the only one that survived thanks to a friend of mine who was trying out her brand new camera that day. I forgot about this moment, but you see, (pointing at ANDY and to the photo) you remind me of him, maybe because you’re both American.]
Do you think I look like him? Hmm…
(ANDY pulls out his phone and takes a selfie. He looks at it and doesn’t like it, so takes a few more, taking different smiles. He looks at those, doesn’t like them. He stands up and walks toward the window.)
I’m getting better lighting, hold on a sec.
(ANDY takes a few more photos with different facial expressions.)
One of these should be good.
(ANDY scrolls through his photos and selects one.)
I guess this one will do.
(ANDY holds his phone next to NADINE’s photo to compare.)
Nah. I don’t see it.
Si, si, vous vous ressemblez.
[Yes, yes, you look like him.]
Hey! It’s not raining anymore. I wonder if my grandpa left the hotel yet. I’d text him but he doesn’t text. He doesn’t even have a smartphone.
(ANDY gets up and looks out the window.)
Ah! I see him coming down this way. You should meet him, he speaks a little French.
(ANDY puts his coat on and walks to the exit. PHILIPPE storms in, the bill in hand)
Hey! Are you forgetting something, Cowboy?.
No, no, I’m just going to meet my grandpa-
Not without paying first, Putain!
I’ll be right back!
Suuuuure you will, dude. I could call the cops, but they’re far more uncordial than I am. Better pay up, bucko!
(ANDY takes 20 Euros from his pocket.)
Is this enough?
What? No tip?
(ANDY pulls out some coins not knowing tipping is not customary in France.)
(ANDY exits. The bells on the door jingle. PHILIPPE slips NADINE the money, before exiting)
Pour toi, mon chaton.
[For you, my kitten.]
(NADINE slides the money over to ANDY’s side of the table when PHILIPPE is out of eye shot.)
Grandpa! I met this crazy French lady. I have no idea what she’s been saying to me. You remember some French right? Come meet her! Her name is Nadine.
(The bells on the door jingle.)
Anne Marie (She/Her) of Hoback Junction, Wyoming is a queer poet, playwright, and storyteller navigating the world with a chronic illness. She earned first place in the Riot Act Regional New Play Festival in 2017 for her play, Love and Radio (and Zombies… Kind Of), and earned second place in 2018 for her play, Last. Only. Best. (Selected for publication by The Dallas Review, 2020). In 2019, her plays Miss Snicklefritz’ Murder Mystery, Indigo Siren, Last. Only. Best., and The Door, were blindly selected for The Wrights of Wyoming statewide play festival. The Door was selected for publication by The Progenitor Art & Literary Journal, 2020. She recently earned the Milestone Award presented by Wyoming Writers, Inc. annemariewellswriter.com