9 characters. 3F; 3M; 3 Either; Flexible casting; 17 pages in length. Approximately 15-20 minutes running time. A Spanish Golden Age comedy (with classroom materials) written by August Mergelman. (3 Credits)

Couth takes place in the Spanish Golden Age. One must have couth in order to conduct oneself properly in a royal court; unfortunately, couth is something that neither Segismundo nor Finea has a lick of. Because of a prophesy that he would wreak havoc with his kingdom, the former has never had the chance to develop couth. Because of her general unwillingness to conform to convention, the latter has managed to spend her life avoiding couth. Despite an awkward first encounter, this unlikely duo takes the royal court by storm, and the results are catastrophic (or are they?) Each of the three short acts involves new twists, turns, and someone getting hurled into the moat. Yuck! This hilarious play also includes added materials including improvisation and acting exercises, a project for students and questions for discussion and research. You can find these other fantastic plays by August Mergelman in our Script Library: Spider Besider, Fancy Nancy & the Ants, Persephone, The Magpies, By Jove, A Merry Interlude at Camelot, Mum’s the Word, The Vixen, Pantalone’s New Pantalones, The Honest Impostor, The Weaver Girl & the Cowherd, The Dragon & the Pearl, Polly Peachum & the Pirates, Lady Scottish Play, Penny from Heaven, The Cat Noir, Trade Trade Secrets, Jackie & the Beans Talk, North Paws.

As a playwright, August Mergelman has one simple goal: to bring classical works to the modern audience. It seems that so many of the world’s great dramas are obscured by their own magnitude. August does not believe that any of history’s great playwrights would truly want their works to be intimidating or bewildering. First and foremost, they were showman; they crafted their works to be engaging, challenging, and most importantly, entertaining. As a fourth-generation Colorado native, August is proud of his western heritage, which is manifest in several of his western settings. His works have been featured in the Playwrights’ Showcase of the Western Region and the Rocky Mountain Theatre Association’s Playwrighting Competition.

Excerpt from the play:

CAST OF CHARACTERS

Finea — an uncouth young lady
Clara — her tutor and chaperone
Segismundo — a sheltered Royal Prince
Clarín — his deadpan jester
Herald — a servant of the court
Iago — a power-grabbing royal advisor
Don Juan — an actor
Abbess — the representative of a hospital
Tiresias — a hermitic soothsayer

Act 1

(In front of the curtain is the interior of a castle’s tower, furnished with a large mirror and a few chairs.)

Finea
(Enters right on tiptoe. Sees the mirror and can’t help but address it. Grandly.) The winters in Great Britain are as gentle as a kitten. There is no need for a mitten. No one’s ever been frostbitten. (Blows a raspberry at her reflection, waves, and rolls her eyes.) Who am I kiddin’? I’ll never get the hang of all this courtly stuff. (To the reflection.) Why are we here, anyway? I know, I know—to use my large dowry as bait, to trick some poor noble chump into marrying me. Thing is, we’ve been here two days, and we’ve yet to meet any potential chumps! Why am I asking you? You don’t know any more than me. (Corrects herself.) Than I! Ugh. (Sits.) I just can’t wait to go home.

Clara
(From off right.) Finea?

(Finea scrambles and hides.)

Clara
Finea? I don’t believe we’re supposed to be in this portion of the castle, and I’m almost positive I caught you, in the corner of my eye, sneaking up these stairs… Finea? When you decide to come out of hiding, we’ll have your history lesson. Then we’re going to work on your posture. Finea? You may as well know that I’m extremely patient. Sooner or later, you’ll have to come out of hiding, and I’ll be waiting. (Fades away.)

Finea
(Emerges from hiding.) She’s held on longer than the rest of them. I’ll give her that. For an etiquette tutor, she’s no pushover.

(With a terrific clamor, Segismundo makes a grand entrance left, clad in a suit of armor. Finea hides again.)

Segismundo
Who dares enter this tower?

Finea
(Quakes.) Lady Finea… does… sir.

Segismundo
(Behaves politely, satisfied with his intimidating entrance.) Oh. Nice to meet you, Lady Finea. I’m Segismundo. No one’s ever been able to break into this tower before. How’d you do it?

Finea
What do you mean, “break in?”

Segismundo
Don’t play dumb.

Finea
I’m not playing. I’m naturally this dumb. When people are trying to be nice, they call me uncouth, but I know that’s just a fancy word for dumb.

Segismundo
You were smart enough to pick the lock to this tower.

Finea
Yeah. I’m pretty handy when it comes to locks, but enough about me. What about you? Are you a prisoner here?

Segismundo
Yeah, sorta.

Finea
Wow. What did you do?

Segismundo
It’s really more a matter of what I could have done. When I was born, there was a prophecy that I’d kill the king.

Finea
The king’s already dead. (Suddenly engrossed.) Did you kill him?

Segismundo
No! (Wrinkles his nose at the absurd idea.) He was my dad. He died of natural causes.

Finea
Oh. Then why are you still up here?

Segismundo
I dunno. Now I’m just used it, I guess, and it’s not all bad. I have books… and a menagerie of little glass figurines. (Produces one.) The rhinoceros is my favorite. He’s powerful and doesn’t take any guff off anyone. He roams the wide-open plains of Africa, basking in his freedom, and he has only one horn. I think that makes him special. (Sees Finea’s look of bewilderment and pockets the figurine.) Yeah, I get kind of bored up here. I wouldn’t know how to act in a royal court, anyway.

Finea
I sure don’t, and I’ve had lots of practice. I’m always doing the wrong things, mostly on accident but sometimes on purpose. (Suddenly remembers.) Oh! You just reminded me of something. (Presents two small bottles.) I forgot about these. I swiped two of ’em, so you can have one, if you want.

Segismundo
Did you take these from the wine cellar?

Finea
(Defensive.) No! (Grins.) It was more like a library or something.

Segismundo
Are they full of wine?

Finea
No, just grape juice, but they’re stolen. That’s all that counts, right? Here, you can have this one. I wanna try the one with the fancy gold stamp on it.

(They uncork the small bottles and drink. As Finea drinks the grape juice, she becomes increasingly hostile.)

Segismundo
So, are you a visitor to the castle or something?

Finea
Sure am. Why I’m here? No clue, but I’ve been to this city before, actually. You see… (Thinks better of it.) It’s a long, boring story. Remind me to tell it sometime.

Segismundo
Okay. (Regards the bottles.) You must have found these in Iago’s study. I’m seldom allowed in there. I only go downstairs when there are no guests in the castle.

Finea
That fellow named Iago sends a shiver up my spine. He smiles the way a cat smiles at a canary. Who is he, anyway?

Segismundo
He’s the Royal Advisor to the Royal Prince.

Finea
Advisor? He acts like he’s in charge.

Segismundo
No one’s really in charge, yet. The Royal Prince has yet to be crowned king.

Finea
That’s you—isn’t it?

Segismundo
Well, theoretically… and technically.

Finea
I think you’re theoretically and technically full of hot air! Why don’t you do something about it? Why don’t you take control of the situation? Why don’t you rule your kingdom the way you should? You know what you need? You need a push!

Segismundo
What kind of push?

Finea
A push out that window over there, since you asked!

Segismundo
I don’t know. It’s a long way down the moat.

Finea
Good! (Stands and rolls up her sleeves.) That’ll give you time to think.

Segismundo
(Stands.) What are you doing?

(She starts to corner him.)

Finea
What do you think?

Segismundo
I’m thinking happy, calming thoughts, and I’d wish you’d do the same. What’s come over you, anyway? I barely know you, and I barely know how to swim. What if my landing is a belly flop? That moat hasn’t been drained in a while… like ever. If you end up assassinating me, somebody’s going to miss me, I think. Stop! Help! Someone! Ahhh!

(Eventually, Finea chases Segismundo off left. His scream is cut off by sound effect—distant splash. Finea enters left, rubbing her palms together. Her satisfaction quickly turns to horror. Clarín enters right, unseen.)

Finea
Oh, my gosh! What did I just do?

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