Coppée, François. Pater Noster: a Play in One Act. Trans. Will Hutchins. New York: Samuel French, 1915. Print.
by Carly Rubin, Olivia Blasi, and Ewa Barnes
The play opens in May of 1871, during the Paris Commune. It is set in the working-class Parisian neighborhood of Belleville, at the home of Mademoiselle Rose and her late brother, the Abbé Jean Morel. Zélie, an elderly female servant of the household, is explaining to a neighbor the way in which the Abbé Morel was shot and killed by bandits two nights previous. During this conversation, Zélie reveals both the cruelty of the massacre and the effect it has had on Mlle. Rose, who raised her much younger brother Jean after their parents’ death. The Abbé Jean is described as truly sweet and blessed, Mlle. Rose as a loving and devoted sister- and mother-figure. Zélie emphasizes the siblings’ mutual devotion.
The conversation is interrupted when Mlle. Rose wakes up and calls for Zélie; the neighbor exits the house through the garden and leaves the women alone. Rose asks for water and mentions having a nightmare about her brother’s execution. Zélie assures Rose that the uprising has been squelched. Rose looks out to the garden and outwardly mourns the loss of her brother, then questions her servant about the visiting neighbor. As the two talk, Zélie mentions that another visitor, the Curé (who was a friend of the late Abbé) has stopped by and will return, wanting to talk to Rose. She protests, but eventually agrees to see the Curé, and Zélie leaves her on her own in the garden.
Alone, Rose muses over her reaction to her brother’s death. She worries that she has become a different person, cruel and vindictive, lacking in mercy and religious faith. She questions God and His designs until she is interrupted by the arrival of the Curé. The two talk; the Curé insists on a merciful, righteous, and faithful reaction to the tragedy while Rose becomes angrier and more defiant. The Curé starts to worry after the state of Mlle. Rose’s soul, but she refuses to concede. Their conversation is interrupted by the sound of gunshots – the Curé remarks that the Commune has been defeated, and Mlle. Rose is put off by his tender reaction to the deaths of the people who killed her brother. She continues to extoll the virtues of the Abbé and express a desire for retribution, while the Curé tries to talk Rose out of her thirst for vengeance. Finally, he rises, and leaves through the garden.
Alone again, Mlle. Rose picks up her rosary and tries to pray, but she cannot even get through the most basic of prayers – the Pater Noster. In this same moment, an unknown man in tattered clothing bursts into the house. His name is Jacques Leroux; he is dressed in the clothing of a Federate and is clearly being pursued by the authorities. He begs Mlle. Rose for refuge and pleads with her to believe that he has done no harm to anyone and has just gotten caught up in the revolts. Rose refuses, citing her brother’s murder as the reason why. Leroux continues to beg for help and mercy; Rose continues to push back. As the two argue, Leroux inadvertently repeats the Curé’s words nearly exactly.
Zélie bursts into the room from the garden and tells Rose that the soldiers pursuing the remaining Communards (of which Leroux is one) are coming to the house to search it. Rose has a change of heart, tells Leroux to hide in another room, and gives him her brother’s clothes to change into. The soldiers arrive, and begin to search the house. Leroux reemerges, dressed in the Abbé’s clothes, and Mlle. Rose tells the soldiers that he is her brother. They apologize and leave. Jacques Leroux thanks Rose and walks out through the garden, still in the Abbé’s clothes. Mlle. Rose, left alone once more, picks up her chaplet, remembers her brother, and begins to pray, this time sincerely and successfully.