The set for the 4-character (3m, 1w) The Count of Monte Cristo in the Chateau D’If is a two-level unit with a background of fog and crags. Two sets of curving stone steps lead up to a platform with Alexandre Dumas’ desk and chair SR. Under the platform UC between the steps is a cave mouth. There is a door SR opening upstage and between it and the SR steps is a window. DR a table and chairs. A garden bench is downstage of the SL steps and further downstage, perpendicular to the edge of the stage, is a “stone” wall that characters must dig through. A small prop table is on the landing halfway up the SL stairs. Escape stairs lead off from halfway up both sets of stairs and from either side of the top of the platform. This unit set represents a dungeon cell in the Chateau d’If, a dark prison on an island in the Atlantic, the study of Dumas, an inn near the sea, the jagged island of Monte Cristo, and a garden. The action is fluid, without set changes or intermission.
A Chopin Etude and the conclusion of Rossini’s William Tell Overture are heard as the house lights fade to darkness. A circle of light comes up on Edmund Dantes, sitting center stage on the floor of his cell. Dumas is barely visible at his desk, starting to ask ludicrous questions. Dantes responds with his own thoughts, concluding the scene by saying that his purpose is the conquest of time. As the lights go to black we hear the sound of a cell door creaking shut, then the sound of gulls and ocean and the voices of Mercedes and Dumas. Birdsong signals the light coming up on Mercedes on the bench in her garden. Auguste Maquet, a literary drudge, tells her that he loves her, and she says that she loves only Edmund Dantes. When Dumas says, “Oh, cries the rejected lover, running along like one demented and tearing his hair,” Maquet looks up at him and asks if he thinks that’s too much. Dumas repeats the line and Maquet follows directions, tearing his hair and running like one demented to the table DR. Dumas suggests to Maquet that perhaps something unfortunate should happen to Dantes. Maquet says that he cannot control Fate, but Dumas says the he (as author) can. He tell Maquet to denounce Dantes to the authorities as a traitor. Maquet will get not only money but Mercedes. Dumas tells the hesitant Maquet that he must decide if he wants to be a major or a minor character. We hear the cawing of ravens and Dumas says, “Good. The ravens are good. Let’s keep that.”
We hear the sound of a ticking clock as the lights come up on Mercedes. She complains about waiting (and burping) but then sees her lover Dantes, home from the sea. She rushes to greet him just as he opens the door, clunk, smashing her in the face. Dantes thinks she has been hiding and looks at the audience, thanking them for coming on this auspicious occasion. Maquet thrusts the door open, hitting Mercedes in the face again, and, prompted by Dumas, arrests Dantes for treason, taking him off to the dungeon of the Chateau d’If. In the darkness we hear footsteps, an iron door creaking open, Dantes screaming as he is thrown toward the cave mouth, and the sound of the door clanging shut. Dantes describes sounds that the audience also hears and as the lights come up Maquet pushes a bowl of gruel into the cave. Dantes says he is being tortured and when Dumas asks questions Dantes says that he has imaginary conversations with God or someone like him who smokes cigars and smells of sweat, liquor, and ink. We see Dumas’ face as he lights his cigar on the platform above. He asks Dantes for the supreme word in human philosophy and when the prisoner gives up he tells him it is the word “if.” Dumas tells Dantes that he is in prison to further the plot.
Lights come up on Maquet writing as Dumas dictates. Mercedes pleads for mercy for Dantes. Dumas orders Maquet to write that Mercedes’ nose has been healed and rips off her bandage, saying, “On to the next chapter. Darkness.” Maquet repeats, “Darkness,” and the lights go out. Then a dim light comes up on Dantes in prison, talking with Dumas and speaking as the author dictates. Mercedes appears and asks Dantes to help her, saying they are both prisoners in a novel by Alexandre Dumas. Following Dumas’ narration, Dantes decides to starve himself to death by throwing his breakfast bowl of gruel out the window. Maquet makes the sound of a rooster crowing and slides a bowl into the circle of light, saying, “Breakfast.” Dantes throws the bowl out the window. Lights black out and come up again as Maquet repeats the rooster crow and the bowl action. Again, Dantes throws it out. This sequence is repeated four more times until Dantes collapses and Dumas, speaking from the darkness, tells us that Dantes is hallucinating a mysterious and relentless scraping noise. We hear the scraping noise get louder and louder until Dantes asks if anyone is there and hears the voice of Dumas say that he is number one thirty seven. Dantes wants to talk and claws at the wall which suddenly gives way and a man tumbles out of the hole. It is Dumas in a long white beard, fake nose, and bald wig. Dumas as prisoner says that he has been trying to escape for years but had decided it is impossible. All he can do is write a story about a young man who is falsely accused of treason and thrown into a dungeon. He shows Dantes a drawing he has made on his stomach and describes how the two of them can escape by digging a tunnel. He also shows Dantes a map giving the location of a treasure buried on the island of Monte Cristo. Prisoner Dumas gags, goes into convulsions, and dies. Dantes pushes him back through the hole, replaces the stones, and moves off as the light fades.
We hear birdsong as the lights come up on Mercedes in her garden as Dumas, from the darkness, says that she remains loyal to her beloved. Mercedes, while insisting on her loyalty, says that she owes it to herself to consider letting some rich fat guy with a creepy mustache defile her tender young flesh repeatedly. We hear ravens cawing as the light fades on her and comes up on Dantes in prison. Dantes tells us he plans to take the dead old man’s place and be buried in the Cemetery of the Chateau d’If. He crawls under the shroud as Maquet and Dumas come in, carry him up the stairs, and tie a cannon ball to his feet before throwing him off the upstage side of the platform. Maquet expresses gratitude that the sea is the cemetery.
Following Dumas’ narration, Dantes, rescued by smugglers, arrives at the Isle of Monte Cristo hoping to find the old man’s treasure. Finding it, but exhausted, he falls asleep on the treasure chest and dreams he is back in the dungeon. When Maquet asks Dumas for co-author credit, Dumas calls him “a piddling little inky-fingered troglodyte,” and decides to have Dantes meet Mercedes in the garden where they vowed undying love. After Dumas tells us that she married a bitter enemy of Dantes, she tells Dantes, whom she apparently does not recognize, that she married because she thought her love was dead. She calls him Edmund but he says he is the Count of Monte Cristo and that she is dead to him. She speaks of how she prayed and wept for him for ten years, and Dumas remarks that “this is good stuff. I really am a tremendously great writer.” When Maquet says that he wrote that speech, Dumas says that he is hallucinating. They argue over the use of the word “whence” and Dantes tells Mercedes that he has no desire to live after he has been publicly insulted before a theatre full of people
After Mercedes leaves and Dantes sits holding his head in despair, Dumas and Maquet talk about making cuts because the scene is too long. As they walk off squabbling, Dantes speaks of a voice in his head telling him that nothing that has happened in hundreds of pages is real; it has all been a dream. Maquet makes the rooster noise and slides a bowl of gruel into the light. Dantes throws it out the window and Mercedes asks him if what happened in the garden felt good to him. They remember kissing each other and she says they need to get away from “all this damned plot.” She remembers the name Alexandre Dumas, and Dantes says he is leaving to find him.
We hear a foghorn and lights come up on a smoky bar where Dumas and Maquet are drinking. Dumas introduces himself to Dantes as James O’Neill (the actor who played the part of the Count of Monte Cristo for decades). Dumas/O’Neill warns Dantes to stay away from Alexandre Dumas and leaves. Maquet tells Dantes that Dumas is the cause of all his sufferings and is completely insane. Dantes and Maquet resolve to destroy Dumas, and we hear the Chopin Etude we heard at the beginning of the play as the lights dim on the inn and come up on Dumas at his desk. We hear wind and rain and a part of the William Tell Overture as Dumas writes frenetically. He shouts out to cut the music and the music stops suddenly so that we hear only the sound of a ticking clock. Dumas says that he’s lost everything he earned over the years. Dantes appears behind him and says he wants to be in a better novel and that he has come to get revenge on the author. Dumas says Dantes needs to be more angry and that he himself gets revenge by writing novels. He tells Dantes that he can do whatever he wants to him and offers him a glass of lemonade. The lemonade is drugged and Dantes collapses as the lights go to black.
We hear footsteps and the sound of an iron door creaking open, then Dantes screaming as he is hurled into the downstage darkness. Maquet does the rooster noise, announcing breakfast as he slides the bowl of gruel into the light. Reprising the opening scene, Dumas fires questions at Dantes, who says that the mind is a theatre in which memory dances and that his purpose is the conquest of time. The lights fade out as we hear the last measures of the Rossini.