|The Lessons of My Father
A Ten-Minute Play
By Catherine Filloux
To "Odette Piovanacci Filloux
and John Daggett"
Cast of Characters:
(1 woman/1 girl/1 man)
ODILE - A pied noir, French-Algerian woman
MAURICE ? Her father
HORSE - Odile as a girl
The Lessons of My Father
(MAURICE lies in hushed stillness
in his coffin. ODILE enters, uncomfortable in elegant
clothing, taking a Clementine from her pocket. A clock,
marking time, chimes.)
Papa...Papa...In ten minutes they will take you
to the church...For your sake I'm trying not to look pious and hypocritical.
(Adjusting her expression.) It's hard.
(Looking at Clementine.) For you, just
like in Heaven.
(She waits, looking at him closely.)
Your joke, your Tall Tale?...You invite everyone
to the funeral and have the last laugh...Aren't you going to surprise me?
(She puts the Clementine in her pocket
and starts to exit.)
I knew I shouldn't have trusted you.
(HORSE, Odile as a girl, runs past
her, looking at creatures lying on the floor.)
Papa, papa! Come here! What happened
to the tadpoles? (Picking up a creature.) What is it...?
The tadpoles turned to frogs while we were sleeping...!
(Maurice bolts upright in his coffin,
his younger self.)
And leaped out of their bowl. (To Odile.)
As any normal frog would do.
(Horse gathers the creatures in her
But what's happened to them?
They dried up.
Outside of their water home. I'll put them
in the ice chest, the cold will bring them back to life, I know it.
They're so tiny...
I must hurry.
I'm afraid the freezer will not resurrect them.
Is it for good?
Yes, for good. Now, you are a brave person,
my Horse. Death isn't necessarily so bad. Sometimes, you have
to laugh in the face of it. (He laughs with glee.)
They're all so pious at those funerals!
And so hypocritical! You know what I'd love to do?
Run an announcement of my death in the O-Ran
paper with the date and time of the wake at our house. All the people
will arrive with their gloomy, lugubrious faces. (Miming.)
Your mother will lead them solemnly into the living room and then when
they're all here I'll enter, straight and dignified, like this. They'll
be left flabbergasted, and I'll have the laugh of my life! The last
laugh. (Laughing.) Eh? What do you think? Not bad,
It's not real.
Maman would never agree to let you play the trick.
Here, in Algeria, the story is what is important,
my Horse, not the reality. It's what we call a galéjade.
A Tall Tale. You embellish it to fit the occasion. (To Odile.)
A good laugh is always more important than anything else. Right?
A good laugh, Papa? I'm nothing like you
taught me to be.
(Maurice beckons to Horse, looking down into a
hole as we hear turbulent sea rushing into the hole with a loud,
Now, would you be afraid to go down there?
Yes, very afraid, Papa.
Pofft, there's nothing to be afraid of.
I'll take you down and then you can see for yourself.
What do you mean? How?
I'll hold you by your feet and lower you down,
then you can have a real good look!
You can do anything.
I don't know.
I'll see to it you're not raised as a sissy,
but the hard way, hardened to hardship. You must always trust me.
I'm your father and I wouldn't wish anything dangerous for you...Don't
you want to have a better look?
(He takes her by the feet and lowers
her down into the hole.)
Wait a minute.
Well, how is it down there?...
I'll tell you in a second, I'm looking.
That's fine, just call when you're ready.
(To Odile.) Take the time to have a real good look.
(After a moment.)
Okay, pull me up.
(He pulls her out. She wipes spray from
her face; Odile wipes tears.)
Didn't I tell you not to be afraid?
See? You can trust me.
Always remember, there is no difference between
a boy and a girl and what they're capable of doing.
No difference. How could you truly say
that? What were you thinking?
(She adjusts her tight-fitting clothes.
Horse picks up a schoolbag and starts to run away. Maurice delivers
the scene to Odile.)
Where are you going, my Horse? Rushing
in, out of breath. What happened?
I was at Lise's.
What were you doing?
Lise had to leave.
Did something happen you're not telling me?
I don't want to talk about it right now.
Maybe you'll feel better if you say it.
You know, you can trust me.
I'm going to finish my homework...
Look what I brought home from the harbor?
A whole big stalk of bananas. You can pretend you're in the jungle
and each time you pass it grab a banana to eat. Have fun! They
can only be good for you. I couldn't resist buying them just to see
Lise's father came into the room while I was
Alone. He began to...I didn't know what
to do. I was ashamed.
He leaned over my chair where I was sitting and...He
put his hand under and all over...
It's good you ran away. How did you do
He moved, to the door...
To lock it.
I quickly got up from my chair. Ran from
You're a brave and smart girl. I'm proud
Listen to me carefully, my Horse.
Did I do wrong?
Most men are not like your friend's father.
They're decent and would never do such a thing, but there are a few like
him and because of them you need to be extra careful as a young girl.
I didn't know.
Of course not, Odile. It was very bad of
him to do what he did. Parents' faults fall back on their own children.
You can see why I'm going to ask you not to go to your friend's anymore.
Take a banana.
I'm not hungry.
(Maurice, Odile and Horse face the audience.)
I went to see that Man! Slapped him hard
across the face.
(Odile makes the motion of slapping.)
Just keep quiet. You know why I'm doing
this. Don't ever do such a thing again and if you speak against me
for what I just did, I promise in tomorrow's paper your actions towards
my daughter will be spelled out in detail.
You called him a...
(Odile takes the Clementine from her pocket and
gives it to Maurice.)
I always thought Heaven would be lined with Clementine
trees and you could help yourself to as many as you wanted!
Papa, we used to ride our bikes to the orchards.
There was a priest Father Clement who invented the hybrid tangerine?
(The clock chimes the hour. He gives her
back the Clementine.)
I must tell you goodbye now. I can't breathe.
(Bright sunlight as Horse shouts.)
We're at the top of the mountain, Papa!
Look at the sea, my Horse! There is the
harbor of Mers-El-Kébir and, see, in the distance, Ain-El-Turk where
you go swimming? Now, I must teach you how to breathe.
(He swells his chest with obvious
You throw out your chest like this...fill your
lungs and take a deep breath...Now exhale!
(He makes a powerful blowing sound
as he exhales.)
In order to live well, Odile, all you have to
do is learn to breathe. Not just with your body, but with your soul.
Passionately. You never let things happen to you.
You make them happen...
You make them happen. Throw out your chest...
(Maurice and Horse swell their chests.)
Fill your lungs...
...I'm filling them...
Take a deep breath...
(They take deep breaths.)
Now exhale through your mouth!
(They exhale, making a powerful blowing
It makes me dizzy, Papa!
With me here, you won't fall.
(The clock chimes again. Horse combs Maurice's
hair with her fingers.)
To start is, never to end...Along the roads of
O-Ran are the telephone poles your own father installed. Who uses
the phones now? Your mother a seamstress, takes you a little boy
to the factory, sets you on the table, the seamstresses play with you,
teach you to love women. You bring me home tadpoles and a baby stork.
At the harbor you look for what is cheap to make us laugh. Your brother
flying across the Mediterranean, killed in a fog crash, plane goes down.
From that day--the day you and I go to identify his body--you never shave
your beard or moustache. Until today when they shave it for you because
you are dead.
In order to live well, my Horse...
Every piece of history dies, the smoke of the
cigarillos you used to smoke, which made your moustache yellow, your laugh,
the revolver you kept in your night table, your daughter, they will lower
the lid of the coffin and I will never. Never see...See...Never see
All you have to do is...
(She sticks out her tongue.) Ahhhggghhh. I'm sick. Langue.
Learn to breathe...
I'll go back to the country where I live.
I'll speak English. My tongue can't wrap itself around the words
so I'll stutter. Look inside, see my throat. I'm sick.
The lessons of my father...
Not just with your body...
I'm almost there, you're almost, they will lower...
But with your soul. Passionately.
You never let things happen to you...
Where you are going there are no phones...
You make them happen...
Cannot reach you, cannot reach you...
Throw out your chest...
(Maurice swells his chest.)
They will lower, they will lower, the phone lines
installed by your own...
Fill your lungs. Take a deep breath...
(He takes a deep breath.)
Now exhale through your mouth!
(He exhales, making a powerful blowing
sound. She doesn't exhale.)
They will lower the lid.
You won't fall.
(Maurice lies back down in his coffin. Odile
tries to sing him a song, "Valentine", but says Clementine instead.
She places the Clementine in the coffin. Horse swells her chest with
In order to live well, all you have to do is
learn to breathe. Not just with your body, but with your soul.
Passionately. You never let things happen to you. You make
them happen. Throw out your chest.
(Odile unbuttons her suitcoat and throws out her
Fill your lungs. Take a deep breath.
Now exhale through your mouth! With me here, you won't fall.
(Horse takes Odile's hand.
They breathe in together then exhale.)
END OF PLAY
Catherine Filloux's play, MARY AND MYRA, premiered
at Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) in Shepherdstown, West
Virginia in July 2000. CATF has commissioned her new play about Cambodia
to be produced in 2002. Filloux has also been commissioned by Theatreworks/USA
for a new play. Catherine received a 2000 Rockefeller MAP Fund award for
her libretto, THE FLOATING BOX: A Story in Chinatown, with composer Jason
Kao Hwang; the opera will receive its world premiere at the re-opening
of Asia Society1s newly renovated building in October, 2001. She
is the winner of the 1999 Roger L. Stevens award from The Kennedy Center
Fund for New American Plays for her play EYES OF THE HEART. Her screenplay
by the same name was selected for the O'Neill's 1996 Eric Kocher Playwrights
Award. She developed EYES for Lifetime TV. Her other plays
have been produced in New York and around the country, as well as in Paris
and Phnom Penh, Cambodia. She received her French Baccalaureate in
Toulon, France, and her M.F.A. from New York University. She is a
member of New Dramatists.