Play six from 10 Short Plays.
Oh man. This one is a doozie. The Feast of Ortolans by Maxwell Anderson. This is a strange play. A bunch of French bourgeoisie and nobility sit around discussing the prospects for the revolution. The date is July 14th, soon to be known as Bastille day. They are celebrating the Feast of Ortolans, an old family tradition of the host in which several specially prepared and bred hens, Ortolans, are presented for all assembled to eat. The guests are excited. The Revolution is under way and the are expecting good things to come. All of the characters are actual historical figures. The cast is huge for a small play, 20 characters, but then it is Maxwell Anderson who is known for giant casts. Everyone chats cattily about the revolution until La Harpe, the Prophet of the Revolution as he is listed in the Cast of Characters, tells everyone about the Terror and how awful the revolution is actually going to be for a while, how basically everyone at table is going to beheaded. He even alludes to a machine which be used. Everyone is shocked.
Meanwhile the woodcutters haven't supplied the chef's with wood to cook the Ortolans. everyone is getting antsy because the food hasn't arrived. The chefs are beside themselves because the the Ortolans will spoil. A soldier arrives with news of riots in Paris and an attempt to open the Bastille which the guests receive with mild anxiety. Surely the Bastille is impregnable. The wood cutters have gathered outside and are revolting. Are they ever. The Host is killed and the servants have abandoned our cast leaving them without Ortolans and a bunch of angry peasants and working folk to contend with. It looks like all those predictions of La Harpe may turn out right after all.
One interesting feature of this play is that once La Harpe begins prophesying, he speaks in blank verse, That's something that Maxwell Anderson is also known for. His verse writing is pretty good without reverting to fake Shakespearean syntax or vocabulary. Max has always been good at writing in verse. The play is a little silly and if you know anything about the history of the French Revolution, kind of obvious. It reads like a well written history lesson and as such it might be somewhat informative. The cast is so big that one wonders where it would be performed. I once recommended Maxwell Anderson play to a high school drama teacher friend because the large casts would give more students a chance to act. That fact coupled with the didactic nature of the text would make this play a good teaching tool both for theatre and history. Otherwise I can't imagine it would be that interesting to watch,