The Necklace (the play
A Reader's Theater Script by Ray Smith Based Upon the Short Story of the Same Name by Guy de Maupassant
CHARACTERS: Narrator 1 Narrator 2 Madame Matilda Loisel Monsieur Loisel (Matilda's Husband) Madame Jeanne Forester (Matilda's former schoolmate)
[The narrators vie enthusiastically to tell the story throughout.]
---Scene 1: An apartment---[Actors gather in a football huddle, and then break out to take their positions.]
[Matilda mimes in concert with the narrators' descriptions.]
NARRATOR 1: This is Matilda, a pretty and charming young woman who happened to be born into a family that didn't have much money. She felt so trapped by her circumstances that she abandoned all expectations of having a better life...
NARRATOR 2: Yes, so eventually she married a man who held a rather low-paying position in a huge company. And her wardrobe...
NARRATOR 1: ...It was so plain and simple, mainly because, on her husband's salary, she could only afford to shop in second-hand stores.
NARRATOR 2: But she always felt as if she had once been a princess and had somehow fallen upon hard times. Her beauty, grace and charm were certainly self-evident...
NARRATOR 1: ...and she came to understand that her natural ingenuity, her instinct for elegance, and her supple mind made her the equal of women who were much better off financially than she.
NARRATOR 2: You can understand how the bare walls, shabby second-hand chairs, and faded hand-me-down curtains in her tiny apartment depressed her and even made her...
NARRATOR 1: ...angry!
NARRATOR 2: Yes, angry! Angry about the injustice of it all!
NARRATOR 1: And she became a daydreamer. She always seemed to be thinking about glittering, luxurious rooms, hung with oriental tapestries, illuminated by tall bronze candelabras...
NARRATOR 2: and servants! She imagined footmen in knee breeches who would fall asleep in the huge over-stuffed armchairs.
NARRATOR 1: She dreamed of reception halls...
NARRATOR 2: ...hung with ancient silks...
NARRATOR 1: ...and dainty little cabinets...
NARRATOR 2: ...overflowing with priceless curiosities from exotic places...
NARRATOR 1: ...and coquettish perfumed reception rooms just for chatting intimately with friends...
NARRATOR 2: and she imagined successful, elegant people coming and going and stopping to greet her.
NARRATOR 1 & 2 & MATILDA: [Big sigh]
NARRATOR 1: But reality always interrupted her dreams.
[Husband enters and they prepare to eat.]
HUSBAND: Ah, wonderful soup! I never tire of it. There's nothing better than a good, humble soup.
MATILDA: I'm sorry it's so thin, but I have to stretch our money so far...
HUSBAND: It's wonderful to me! I have learned to be satisfied with my condition! A person who is satisfied with what they have is always wealthy!
NARRATOR 1: Not exactly what Matilda's thinking!
NARRATOR 2: You got that right! She's thinking about elaborate dinners, shining silverware, tapestries with ancient mythical figures and strange birds in fairy forests...
NARRATOR 1: and witty conversations in which she could smile knowingly at the wisdom of her companions.
NARRATOR 2: Frankly, she's thinking about anyplace but here.
NARRATOR 1: Do you know what I heard? She's even stopped going to see her former schoolmate, Madame Forester, because Madame Forester's wealth only depresses her more.
NARRATOR 2: No! Do you really think that's the reason?
NARRATOR 1: Yes, I'm quite cer...
HUSBAND: Well now. I have a wonderful surprise for you, my dear.
He places an envelope on the table.]
NARRATOR 1: What's this?
[Narrators hover curiously.]
NARRATOR 2: Come on! Open it!
MATILDA: [Picks up and opens envelope and withdraws an invitation.] "The Chief Executive Officer requests the honor of Monsieur and Madame Loisel's company in the grand ballroom of the Excelsior Hotel on Monday evening, January 18th for our annual executive ball."
HUSBAND: Isn't that wonderful!
MATILDA: What do you mean? What can I do with that?
[She tosses the invitation spitefully onto the table.]
HUSBAND: Why my dear! I thought you would be so happy. We never get to go to things like this. It's such a fabulous opportunity! Believe me, I had to go to a lot of trouble to get the invitation. All of my coworkers would give their right arm to get one. These invitations are rarely given to anyone who is not in upper management. Everyone of importance will be there. [Pause] I did this for you!
NARRATOR 2: Why does she look irritated?
NARRATOR 1: I could make a pretty good guess... "What am I going to..."
MATILDA: Exactly what do you think I could wear to this glamorous occasion?
NARRATOR 1: Ha! I guessed it!
HUSBAND: Why... Why, the gown you wear to go to the theater with me, of course. It's really quite suitable.
[Matilda breaks into tears.]
NARRATOR 2: Uh oh...
HUSBAND: What's the matter? Why are you crying?
MATILDA: [Trying to regain her composure.] I'll be humiliated in that old gown. It's so worn and tattered and completely out of style. Don't you understand? I have nothing suitable to wear so I certainly can't go to this ball. You may as well give the invitation to someone else in the office whose wife is better equipped than I am for such occasions.
NARRATOR 1: Shh!
HUSBAND: There must be a way. I want so much for you to have this! [Pauses to think.] Matilda, how much do you think a suitable gown would cost, one that you could get further use from for other occasions? It could be something very... uh... simple!... but elegant as well, of course.
NARRATOR 2: Nice move!
MATILDA: [Pausing to think first.] I'm not too sure, but maybe 400 francs would do. [Winces a bit as if the amount would be unthinkable.]
Husband paces and thinks.]
NARRATOR 1: He looks a little pale, don't you think?
NARRATOR 2: Shh!
HUSBAND: I'll tell you what. I've been saving up a small fund to buy myself a gun...
NARRATORS 1 AND 2: A gun?!
HUSBAND: ...so that I could go hunting with my boss next summer. I was thinking it might help me to get promoted, plus I need a break from my work once in a while. I think I have just about 400 francs right now, but I suppose you could take it for a gown. I'm sure you will be really beautiful and impress everyone favorably!
NARRATOR 2: Aww. Isn't that sweet!
NARRATOR 1: Do you have a hankie?
---Scene 2: The same apartment, two weeks later---
[Narrator(s) holds up a sign: "Two weeks later."]
[Matilda is trying on her new gown in front of the mirror while her husband admires her.]
NARRATOR 1: Wow, what a gown! She's a hottie!
NARRATOR 2: Shh.
HUSBAND: You make any dress come to life, my dear. How ravishing you look!
MATILDA: [Pouting and whining] But I'll be disgraced!
HUSBAND: Disgraced? What can you possibly mean? You will be the most beautiful woman there!
NARRATOR 2: I'm getting a sick feeling about this.
MATILDA: I'll look absolutely poverty stricken!
HUSBAND: Poverty stricken? For four hundred francs you now look poverty stricken?
MATILDA: You just don't understand! It's so annoying! I don't have a single piece of jewelry to wear with my gown. Everyone will surmise that it is because we are poor. I would almost rather not go at Sheesh!
HUSBAND: Well... You... Well... Hmm... Wait, I've got it! You could wear flowers instead! We could get two or three magnificant roses for about 10 francs.
MATILDA: [Sobs, cries, and whines.] That would be even worse than wearing no ornament at all! Everyone would see in a moment that I was trying to hide our poverty.
NARRATOR 2: She does have a point.
NARRATOR 1: Oh listen to you! Our self-appointed fashion expert.
HUSBAND: There is one thing, one possibility, that you've forgotten.
MATILDA: [Sobs.] What's that?
HUSBAND: Your old classmate! Madame Jeanne Forester! She is really well off. I'm sure she would be willing to lend you some of her jewelry! You two used to be really close. I am almost certain she will help.
MATILDA: [Her sobs turn into laughter and joy.] Of course! Oh why didn't I think of it before?
---Scene 3: Madame Forester's Home---
[Actors reshuffle the stage positions and then freeze for a second. They then hold up a sigh: "Madame Forester's Home"]
NARRATOR 1: [Looking around.] Wow, I like this place!
NARRATOR 2: Cool drapes!
NARRATOR 1: Hey! Don't touch those! We're supposed to be invisible, remember?
FORESTER: [Setting a jewelry box on the table.] I'm certain something here will be perfect for you, my dear.
Matilda rummages through the box, holding pieces up to herself and looking in the mirror.]
FORESTER: That one seems quite appropriate.
MATILDA: Oh, I was hoping for something a bit more... more...
MATILDA: Well, yes.
FORESTER: [She places another box on the table.] You may look at these, but I'm afraid that these things are only...
[Matilda reaches into the box and pulls out an exquisite necklace.]
MATILDA: Oh, this would be so perfect!
[She fastens the necklace about her throat and admires it in the mirror.]
NARRATOR 1: You have to admit, that's impressive!
MATILDA: Oh, but it would be asking too much, wouldn't it?
FORESTER: Nonsense! I'd be delighted to see you wear it, my dear. Please, take it.
MATILDA: I don't know what to say. Oh thank you so much, Jeanne my dearest friend! [She hugs Forester.]
NARRATOR 2 TO NARRATOR 1: Want another hankie?
---Scene 4: The apartment after the ball---
[Actors shuffle the stage back to the apartment arrangement. The freeze for a second, and then the narrators hold up a sign: "Back at the apartment, after the ball."]
NARRATOR 1: Wasn't the ball great!
NARRATOR 2: Madame Loisel was absolutely smashing! She was prettier than any of the other women: elegant, graceful, smiling and wild with joy. Everyone noticed her, and her husband's boss seemed to want every dance with her! Not that he didn't have a lot of competition from all the other executives.
NARRATOR 1: ...and her silly husband fell asleep!
NARRATOR 2: ...along with three other husbands whose wives were having such a great time. They sneaked out to an anteroom and fell asleep on the sofas!
NARRATOR 1: I can still hear the music...
NARRATOR 2: Shh! Here they come.
[Matilda and her husband enter.]
MATILDA: I feel as if I'd frozen to death! If only we had been able to hail a cab at the ballroom...
HUSBAND: If we had done that, everyone would have seen our shabby overcoats. Certainly, you would not have wanted that?
MATILDA: No, of course not, but that does not ease my pain when I remember that we had to walk all the way to the river before we finally found a cab, and then it was one of those wretched "night cabs" that are too disgustingly filthy to operate in daylight.
HUSBAND: Well, at least we found one. It would have been impossible for us to walk the entire distance in this cold. Here, let me help you with your coat.
[Matilda slips out of her old coat.]
HUSBAND: You were indeed lovely tonight!
MATILDA: Apparently not lovely enough to keep you awake!
HUSBAND: You were having such a good time. I didn't want to interfere. You know I don't like dancing. Here, take one final look in the mirror before you disrobe! I've given you a night to remember.
MATILDA: [Looking in mirror.] Oh my God! Oh no, oh no.
HUSBAND: What is the matter with you?
MATILDA: I... I have... Oh my God, this can't be true!
HUSBAND: What? What is it?
MATILDA: I have lost Madame Forester's necklace!
[The Narrators gasp!]
HUSBAND: It can't be true! It's impossible!
[They begin frantically searching through their coats and clothes, and on the floor.]
MATILDA: Oh God, help us!
HUSBAND: It must be here somewhere. Necklaces don't just evaporate.
[Matilda begins weeping and sobbing as she searches.]
HUSBAND: Are you sure that you had it on when you left the ball? Perhaps it fell off there while you were dancing. Surely someone there must have found it and it will be returned safely.
MATILDA: No, no. I am certain I had it on because I remember reaching up and touching it after putting on my coat.
HUSBAND: And the streets were so quiet as we walked alone in the cold that surely we would have heard it fall. It must be in that wretched cab.
MATILDA: I think you are right. Did you notice the number of the cab?
HUSBAND: Half the night cabs operate without numbers. I certainly didn't see one. Did you?
MATILDA: [Crossly.] Of course not. Would I have asked you if I had?
HUSBAND: [Pulling his coat back on.] I shall go back on foot, over the entire route, to see whether or not I can find it.
[He rushes out. Matilda sinks into a chair, sobbing.]
NARRATOR 2: This is bad...
NARRATOR 1: Really, really bad.
NARRATOR 2: Let's stick around until he comes back.
NARRATOR 1: You couldn't budge me with a mule.
[They fall asleep.]
NARRATOR 1: [Awakening.] What time is it?
NARRATOR 2: [Yawning.] Almost 7 a.m.
[The door opens and husband enters.]
HUSBAND: Darling. Wake up. I've returned.
MATILDA: Oh thank God! Did you find it?
HUSBAND: I'm afraid I didn't. I retraced our entire route on foot and found nothing. I went to the police and the cab companies, but there was not even the faintest glimmer of hope. The police said that if it was an unlicensed cab, the chances of recovering the necklace were pitifully low. I even went to the newspaper offices and placed ads posting a reward, but I have little hope. Why would the driver return it for a modest reward when he could get much nearer its actual value on the black market?
MATILDA: [Nearly hysterical] I can't bear this. I just can't bear it!
HUSBAND: You must hold yourself together until we can find an answer. [He attempts to comfort her as she shakes visibly in his arms.] We need more time. Here is what to do. Write a letter to your friend, Madame Forester, and say that you have broken the clasp of her necklace and that you are having it fixed by a jeweler. That will give us the time we need.
MATILDA: But what good will time do us if the driver is dishonest, and most surely he is.
HUSBAND: We must assume that it will never be returned. In that case, we have no choice but to replace it. We must find another exactly like it.
---Scene 5: Undetermined locaton.---
[Actors reshuffle stage and then freeze for a second. No sign this time. Matilda is scrubbing floors at one side of stage, and her husband is working at paperwork on the other side, holding his head as if in a headache.]
NARRATOR 1: Look at her, scrubbing floors to pay off the loans they took out to purchase a replacement necklace for Madame Forester.
NARRATOR 2: Yes, it's amazing that Madame Forester seems never to have noticed the difference.
NARRATOR 1: Only an expert in diamonds would be able to tell. The replacement necklace was so nearly like the original.
NARRATOR 2: And the price! The Loisel's have taken on nearly ten years of heavy debt to cover the cost of those exquisite jewels.
NARRATOR 1: And don't forget that Monsieur Loisel even used the small inheritance left by his father which was to be their security in later years.
NARRATOR 2: He works day and night, putting in overtime at the office, and he even takes in extra work from clients.
NARRATOR 1: And several times now, he has even had to renegotiate the terms of his loans in order to obtain more time for payment. Their situation is so terrible!
NARRATOR 2: Their apartment is even shabbier than before, and their clothes are practically falling off of them.
NARRATOR 1: They have both displayed such heroism in order to make good on the necklace, and Madame Forester doesn't even know what happened!
NARRATOR 2: Their previous life seems downright luxurious and carefree to what they have now.
---Scene 6: On the street, nearly 10 years after the ball.---
[Actors again reshuffle the stage and then freeze for a second. They then hold up a sign: "A street, nearly 10 years after the ball."]
HUSBAND: That's it, Matilda my love. I have made the last payment on our debt. We have nothing left for ourselves, but at least we are free!
MATILDA: Oh, my darling. We have each other. I would never have believed we could have had the courage to see this through. How strange this life is, that we should have lost so much in order to find what matters.
HUSBAND: Perhaps now we can save up to buy new coats. Look! Isn't that Madame Forester over there? You have not spoken to her since the day you returned the necklace, or rather, since the day you handed her its replacement.
MATILDA: I was too ashamed to ever again look into her eyes. She's coming this way.
HUSBAND: She looks so fine, so prosperous. Speak to her. Go ahead. You can tell her now.
NARRATOR 2: This should be juicy!
NARRATOR 1: Shh...
MATILDA: Uh... Hello. Good day. Do you know me?
FORESTER: You must have mistaken me for someone else. Excuse me please...
MATILDA: Jeanne, don't you recognize me? It's me, Matilda.
FORESTER: Matilda? But it can't be. You are such a worn and older person than she.
MATILDA: No really, it's me. I've changed because I have had to endure ten hard years of manual labor, scrubbing floors and taking in laundry.
FORESTER: My dear, what could have happened to make you do that?
MATILDA: It was your necklace, or rather my desire to be elegant, that caused this.
FORESTER: But how is that possible? I have the necklace. I wore it to the theater just the other night.
MATILDA: The necklace you have is actually just a replacement. I'm afraid that I lost yours. We borrowed money to purchase a replacement and have spent the past ten years paying off the debt, but this very day, we have made the last payment.
FORESTER: Ten years? Surely it could not have taken that long to pay off the amount needed to replace the necklace?
MATILDA: The replacement we bought was first rate, of the highest quality. The jewels were the most exquisite available.
FORESTER: Jewels? [Pauses.] Oh my dear, you purchased jewels?
MATILDA: The jeweler said that they are the very finest that can be bought. They cost us 36,000 francs. We have the receipt still if you would like to verify the price.
FORESTER: Oh, my poor, poor, dear Matilda. You purchased jewels to replace my necklace, when in fact it was only costume jewelry, mere glass? The replacement should have cost you no more than 500 francs. Oh my dear, dear Matilda. [She takes Matilda into her arms. Monsieur Loisel leans weakly against a wall. Narrators collapse onto the floor in a heap. Matilda and Madame Forester eventually break into laughter.]