Je Fostes, Tu Fostes
the sequel to Foster, Fostri
a play by Bethany Kanfer
Setting: A high school classroom with: a whiteboard, center stage; a teacher's desk, stage left; 8 student desks, stage right; radiator stage left near Foster's desk. The door is on stage right, where everyone enters and exits.
Time: one class period
Props: Each student except David has a copy of "Le Petit Prince." Foster also has a copy of LPP marked with "l'exemplaire du prof" on the top. He has a French textbook, marked in the same fashion, a French dictionary, a messenger bag, and other teacher paraphernalia. On his desk is a plastic container of pasta and a fork.
Characters: Mr. Foster, Morgan, David, Margot, Hilary, Matt, Austin, Adrienne, Jason
(Lights are dim. All students except Margot, who is not in the room, are milling about in the room, talking to each other. Foster is at his desk, eating pasta out of a plastic container.)
(Lights go up, bell rings and students find their seats, still talking. Foster finishes his pasta, puts the fork inside the container, closes it, and puts it in his messenger bag. He stands up.)
Foster: Bonjour, classe. Ça a sonné.
(Class continues to talk.)
Foster: Alors, mes pauvres, c'est le temps de vous faire souffrir.
(Class quiets down.)
Foster: Okay, d'abord, je vais vous rendre vos devoirs. (Begins to pass back papers.)
(Margot walks in.)
Margot: Sorry, Mr. Foster. (Sits down.)
Foster: No problem. Anyway, I was correcting these last night and I fell asleep. I woke up at 2 a.m. with my head on a pile of homework, so if anyone gets a homework with a head print, it's mine. Je suis prof. Je n'ai pas de vie. Okay, I want you to look over the corrections and rewrite it. You were very inventive, just not very accurate. Oh, and if you see the word "plagiat," what do you think it means? Plagiarism! It's illegal there too. It doesn't work if you copy the sentences. Especially if you copy them out of order. Then it's plagiarism and bad! Wanna laugh at some of the mistakes? No, I never laugh at what you write. If you make a mistake, I usually just light a votive candle and get on with correcting. Pour faire une bonne digestion, je corrige les papiers de français.
Jason: How are you going to grade the rewrite?
Foster: Not too harshly. I really don't care about your grades. I only give them to you because some of you only learn if I hit you over the head with a grade hammer. "The work is its own reward." You better hope it's true. Vous n'avez rien appris du Petit Prince. L'essentiel n'est pas votre note!
Matt: Do you grade on a curve?
Foster: Yes, in fact, I grade the whole thing (Bends to the side) like this. Scoliosis, and how it can work for you.
Adrienne: Hey, I have scoliosis!
Hilary: Me too!
Foster: Okay, have your lawyer contact my lawyer. Anyway, some of these were pretty bad.
Adrienne: Well, you don't have to yell at us.
Foster: Yell? When did I yell? I hate teenagers and their definition of yelling. Yelling is if I don't fall to my knees and praise you. D'accord. Je vais commencer à être méchant.
Foster: Oui, (Puts on a kid voice.) ça fait longtemps que vous êtes méchant, professeur. Où je peux acheter une corde pour me pendre? Oh, and something else a lot of you keep having problems with is that you guys keep introducing clauses with no "que." That's illegal in French. It'll get you pulled over and a $50 fine. I should give you all a supply of 5000 que's. If you don't use them all by the end of the year, you flunk! If any of you need any que's, stop by after class. I'll copy some off for you.
Matt: What are we doing today?
Foster: Oh, mais tu peux dire ça en français. You cannot learn anything when you speak English.
Matt: Uh, qu'est-ce que nous faisons aujourd'hui?
Foster: Le français! En classe de français! Quel choque!
Morgan: Let's do nothing!
Foster: See, if I keep a straight face and don't react in any other way, it'll look like I'm valuing your suggestion. Nous avons un choix. Qui veut faire le texte? (A few students raise their hands.) Qui veut la lecture? (A couple students raise their hands.) Qui veut prendre une sieste? (Exclamations of "yeah" "let's do it" and the like from the whole class.) Okay, vendredi, vous avez une sieste. Aujourd'hui, nous avons faire quelque chose. (Looks around.) Arg! There are too many people for a French 5 class. I am going to be mean until I can get two of you to drop.
Margot: That might be a good idea.
Foster: Margot, you can't drop. Who would I make fun of? Or, in Fosterspeak, of whom would I make fun? Oh! The saying of "whom" has happened in your presence!
Margot: You can make fun of Matt!
Foster: Yeah, that's true.
Foster: Well, j'ai le droit de vous taquiner. It's in my contract. I insisted.
Matt: (To Margot.) Je te déteste.
Foster: Matt, c'est pas gentil de détester les autres élèves. Oh, mais tu peux détester le prof. C'est dif... merde. Actually, they've done studies that show that students whom the teachers like get better grades. Yes, I'm here to teach you French, but sometime I have to let you in on the truth. It's helpful for you if I like you. You don't have to like me. You just have to pretend.
Foster: À tes souhaits.
Adrienne: What does that mean?
Foster: Well, what it means and what it means are two different things. I wish I hadn't said that. Tout le temps, j'aime donner les réponse stupides. It means "to your wishes." It's what the French say for "bless you."
Margot: That's weird.
Foster: No weirder than saying "bless you." Very few people are actually invoking any sort of serious blessing when they say "bless you." "À tes souhaits" doesn't mean anything other than you sneezed and I like you.
Matt: Then what do they say to strangers?
Foster: French people don't say anything to strangers.
(David closes his eyes and goes to sleep, leaning to the left.)
Foster: Okay, vous étiez censés lire des chapitres du Petit Prince. J'ai vous envoyé le vocab pour chapitres 18, 19, et 20, mais chapitre 21, j'ai décidé de regarder les Red Sox. Judging by your last quizzes, I think there's a lot of you who don't understand the story. The way I get it, the pilot was a female impersonator who wanted to marry his plane, and the king moved in with the businessman and they were trying to have kids... I don't get it. Il est un roi sans sujets et je suis un prof sans élèves. Je suis le roi du français. You wrote me these fantastical answers where this stinking little prince showed up at the conference and liked the astronomer's suit. Four of you- that's half the class, four of eight- can't spell a word that's printed on the test. I will be sending copies of these tests to all of the colleges who may have already accepted some of you. I'd love to be in a class where everyone gets an A, but I will give you an F. I don't care! And you better hope I don't run into any of your parents in the supermarket. I love ratting out my students to their parents. There is no better feeling. So get out your books and we'll go over what you read. (Everyone but David gets out a book.) David, where's your book? David? Are you awake? I've never seen anybody sleep at that angle. David!
(David wakes up.)
David: (Deer-in-headlights look.) What?
Foster: Tu es malade ou tu es fatigué? Malade, je suis désolé. Fatigué, tant pis. Oh, il est prisonnier dans la classe de français. Rien n'a changé. Do you have your copy of Le Petit Prince?
Foster: Well, share with someone. (To the class.)Je déteste les élèves confortables. That's the problem with speaking French all the time in class. It's melodic. If you're tired, it'll put you to sleep. (Melodic voice.) Je parle français. Vous êtes fatigués. Vous endormez. (Normal voice.) C'est mieux que le 'white noise.' This is just one of those days. Or possibly two of them. I'm not sure. Les élèves sont toujours difficile. Et le prof aussi. That's what I'm going to do starting next year. I'm going to train you all to look like you've just won concert tickets when I call on you.
Adrienne: Could we actually do something?
Foster: Well, I was trying! Je suis fameux pour mes digressions. Et moi, je suis méchant. Okay, je vais vous humilier. Any questions about the part you had to read?
Morgan: Que veut dire espèce?
Foster: Type. It's on the vocab sheet I gave you! Let me try to say this nicely. Nah, it'll take too long. You're lazy. Read the sheet! Listening in class is also valid. Okay, any more questions? (Pause.) (Austin looks intently at his book.) No? Then I'll ask you a question. Quoi est-ce que le petit prince découvre dans le dessert? Oh! this is like the fifth time today I've said "What does he discover in the dessert?"
Margot: That's okay. We don't know the difference.
Foster: The difference is that if you eat the desert, you really need to drink a lot with it, cause it's gritty. Austin?
(Austin looks up.)
Foster: I'm just asking because you have the studious look of someone who is just starting to do his reading now. Anyone else?
(All students look in their books.)
Foster: I love it, when I ask a question like that and everyone gets all studious, looking at their books with that little brow-wrinkle. "If I look studious, he won't call on me! See, I'm looking!" Je torture des élèves ici! Quoi est-ce que le petit prince découvre dans le désert?
Hilary: What did you say?
Foster: J'ai said quelque chose en French. Comme je dis tout le temps, l'enfer, c'est les autres. Anyone have an answer?
Margot: (Questioningly.) Il découvre, uh, juste un seul fleur?
Foster: (To Margot.) Could you say that again, so we can all laugh at you? (To the class.) It's always best to leave your brain out of communication. (To Margot.) C'est "une fleur," pas "un fleur."
Foster: You think gender has got you annoyed in French class, well, it has really engendered some fierce battles. Anyway, your answer was good enough.
Margot: Hey, I got it right!
Foster: Well, you can be right once. Okay, let's read the end of chapter 21. Après le petit prince renconte le renard. Qui est-ce que je vais torturer? David! Non, pas David, j'ai détruit sa vie déjà aujourd'hui. J'aime être méchant. C'est ma chose favorite. Okay, Jason. Page 69. "Le lendemain."
(All students open their books.)
Jason: "Le lendemain revint le petit prince." (Mispronounces "prince" as "prance.")
Foster: Non, c'est prince.
Jason: (Correctly) Prince.
Foster: Oui. Why sit there and break your mouth trying to say it? Doesn't that sound good in your mouth? It's French! Continue a bit.
Jason: "Il eût mieux valu revenir à la même heure, dit le renard. Si tu viens, par exemple, à quatre heures de l'après-midi, dès trois heures je commencerai d'être heureux. Plus l'heure avancera, plus je me sentirai heureux. À quatre heures, déjà, je m'agiterai et m'inquiéterai; je découvrira le prix du bonheur! Mais si tu viens n'importe quand, je ne saurai jamais à quelle heure m'habiller le coeur' Il faut des rites."
Foster: Okay, continue, Matt.
Matt: "Qu'est-ce qu'un rite? dit le petit prince." (Mispronounces "petit" as "petite.")
Foster: Petit prince. Petite prince also means he's doing hormone treatments. Keep reading a bit.
Matt: "C'est quelque chose trop oublié, dit le renard. C'est ce qui fait qu'un jour est différent des autres jours, une heure, des autres heures. Il y a un rite, par exemple, chez mes chasseurs. Ils dansent le jeudi avec les filles du village. Alors le jeudi est jour merveilleux! Je vais me promener jusqu'à la vigne. Si les chasseurs dansaient n'importe quand, les jours se ressembleraient tous, et je n'aurait point de vacances."
Foster: Ça suffit. Hilary?
Hilary: (Quietly.) "Ainsi le petit prince apprivoisa le renard."
Foster: Un peu plus fort. You could have just been reciting ancient Babylonian. I didn't hear anything.
Hilary: (Louder.) "Ainsi le petit prince apprivoisa le renard. Et quand l'heure du départ fut proche :
-Ah! dit le renard' je pleurerai.
-C'est ta faute, dit le petit prince, je ne te souhaitais point de mal, mais tu as voulu que je t'apprivoise'"
Morgan: Que veut dire ainsi?
Morgan: Merci, Margot.
Foster: Okay, on continue'
Jason: Uh, j'ai une question.
Jason: Je ne comprends pas le mot ainsi.
Foster: We just said it! It means thus. Okay, Austin.
(Austin prepares to read but David raises his hand.)
Foster: Attends, une question. Oui?
Foster: Tu es sérieux ou tu blagues?
Foster: Il y a dix seconds qu'elle a dit "Que veut dire ainsi ?" Et puis Jason pose la même question. (Looks around the room.) Je cherche la caméra! Okay, Ainsi- I mean Austin. Sorry. I'm just getting a little antsy. Okay, back to Le Petit Prance- the little prancing guy. Austin.
Austin: "-Bien sûr, dit le renard.
-Mais tu vas pleurer! dit le petit prince.
-Bien sûr, dit le renard.
-Alors tu n'y gagnes rien!
-J'y gagne, dit le renard, à cause de la couleur du blé."
Foster: Et pour finir, Adrienne.
Adrienne: "Puis il ajouta:
-Va revoir les roses. Tu comprendras que la tienne est unique au monde. Tu reviendras me dire adieu, et je te ferai cadeau d'un secret."
Foster: Okay. Any questions about that? (Pause.) Then we're going to stop there and move on to some grammar. Let's review the subjunctive. You guys still don't seem like you fully get it, but you do need to know it. They didn't just invent it so French teachers would have something to do on Tuesdays. Just be glad that you only need to know the present subjunctive.
Margot: What other tenses in the subjunctive are there?
Foster: Well, there's the imperfect subjunctive, but in French, that's a party game. It's kind of like something that you do at cocktail parties where nothing's really happening. "Oh, I talked to someone the other day who used the imperfect subjunctive." "Oh, did you? How interesting." "Subjunctive? Did you see a doctor?" French grammar is like a board game.
Hilary: Do we really need to remember all of it?
Foster: I bumped my head on the doorframe and I forgot the subjunctive! I have French grammar amnesia! Well, you can get around it. Of course, that won't work on the test, cause I'm evil and want to see that you know it.
Matt: (Sighs.) Why does French have the subjunctive?
Foster: Why? It's so you can get stuff wrong on your test. That's why the French invented it. And English has it too, but most of the forms don't change, so you don't recognize that it exists.
Austin: Why do we have to take a test on it?
Foster: Because I enjoy watching people rack their brans and suffer. Je suis un peu sadique. I'm requiring you to understand. Someone give me an example of an English sentence with the subjunctive.
Morgan: Is it possible that the flight is cancelled?
Foster: Okay, good start with "is it possible that," but actually it's "is it possible that the flight be cancelled?" Stay tuned for the answer to this and other important questions. In English, it sounds really weird. You wouldn't say "is it possible that the flight be cancelled?" You would say "Is the flight cancelled?" Well, let's look in the book. Page 36. "Le subjonctif avec des expressions de volonté." Even as a title, it's laborious. Okay, let's not do that.
Adrienne: I hate the subjunctive!
Foster: Si tu ne peux pas dire ça en français, tu espères que c'est pas important. Has anyone else observed how life frequently sucks? Okay, does everyone understand the subjunctive? Cause if you do, you can just go over it on your own and we'll move on to something more productive. I think we've talked about it enough. If I talk about it any more, someone might want to kill me, as it has now been relegated to the list of things that are too painful to continue going over. I will not lead you down these horrible paths of grammar... whatevers. You'll get it, you're young. Time and indifference have not worn their ravaging effects on you. David? Do you understand it?
David: (Nods.) Kind of.
Foster: Kind of? Kind of means "no, but I'm still smart." Do you understand it?
Foster: Oh! You're guilty of the dreaded false head-nod! Come on, guys. If you don't understand something, ask! I know it's tough. How many people will stand up in front of a crowd and say, "Yeah, I have no idea what the hell you're saying. Yeah, I could be stupid. Would you answer my question?" Don't worry so much about being ignorant! The Ignorance Dance! Oh, I'm an idiot! Can any of you do physics? I can't. I'm ignorant. Any of you taking AP Biology? I'm ignorant! Can any of you play an instrument? I can't! I'll play guitar for you someday, then you'll understand. Can any of you run better than a six-minute mile? Well, seven minutes now, I suck. It's okay to be ignorant. It's not okay to stay that way. The problem with guessing in French is that you might be looking dumb. Vous êtes allergique aux questions. But if you're in French class, and there's something you don't understand, ask! Raise your hand and ask me a question. Tell me with your hand, not your eyebrows. Cause if you don't ask me questions, I'll assume that you understand everything, so I'll ask you questions. I know that there's no end of questions you won't ask until you're threatened. Now protect yourselves from the evil ray gun of my question! (Shoots hand up.) Ha! My shield is up! Si je parle trop vite, vous levez le main et dites, "Professeur, vous parlez trop vite." Et je dis, "Écoutez plus vite." Écoutez avec des oreilles françaises. For endless misery, just add French. Side effects may include screaming and refusal to do homework. Okay, let's move on to the conditional tense. This is something we really do need to review. Of course, just like the subjunctive, it's possible to get around it. Could you write an essay without using the conditional? I could.
Morgan: No, apparantly you can't.
Foster: (Laughs.) I guess you're right. So we'll have to go over it. Someone give me an English sentence with a conditional in it. (Adrienne raises her hand.) Adrienne.
Adrienne: I wanted to go shopping, but my homework wasn't done.
Foster: No, true as that may be, there is no conditional in that sentence. It's grammar. Who cares what language you don't know it in? However, knowing what you're saying is always an advantage on a test. Okay, as Adrienne tried to demonstrate, the conditional is used a lot along with a verb in the passé composé. "If I went there, I would do this. If I ate this, I would get hives." Okay. (Goes to whiteboard and writes as he says, "Si j'ai fait attention au prof, je comprendrais.") Note the position of the direct and indirect objects. This is a part of French grammar where you need the whiteboard. You need your coach up there diagramming it. "Okay, so the direct object is going to go in back, and the indirect object is going to sneak around behind the verb...." Now, anyone who went to Catholic school knows how to diagram. Catholic schools love to diagram. It brings you closer to God somehow. If you can diagram, you're closer to Jesus.
Matt: Yeah, just like in Latin class too.
Foster: (Laughs.) Poke out my eyes! I saw an ablative! Can't sleep well unless I've had a couple of ablatives. I'm having Latin daydreams. I'm just so happy to be out!
Margot: And don't forget "by means of."
Foster: You can't say "by means of" or you sound like some weird ex-Latin student who can't let it go. But it's okay, they have therapy for that now. Usually there's one or two people hidden in a corner of the room who still don't understand direct and indirect objects. But hopefully you all understand, or have hope of leading otherwise productive lives. But if you keep making mistakes with them, come in for extra help after school, and, with the use of mind-altering drugs and shock therapy, I'll make you stop doing that. Okay. So, Jason, point out the verb that's in the conditional.
Jason: Um, comprendrais?
Foster: Bon. Let's review how to form the conditional tense. Someone give me an ir verb. (Class is quiet.) Vous êtes très très bien pour une classe de Buddhists. And you're humming your mantra very silently. Hmm, souffrir, to suffer... that should have been foremost on your minds right now. My life is full of vexations.
Matt: Is souffrir a boot verb?
Foster: I hate boot verbs. It makes you think about your feet. Oh, just so when you go to college you don't complain that your French teacher was an idiot, I know that the conditional is a mood. But if I ask "quelle mode?" you have no idea what I was saying. "Quelle mode?" What mud? Okay, je vais écrire toutes les formes de souffrir. (Writes on the board as he says them.) Je souffrais, tu... Hilary?
Foster: Comment ça s'écrit?
Hilary: S-o-u-deux f-r-a-i-s.
Foster: Oui. Il... Margot?
Margot: Il souffrait, avec un t.
Foster: Nous... Austin?
Austin: Nous souffrions.
Foster: Vous... David?
David: (Looks vaguely surprised to be called upon.) Uh, what?
Foster: The conditional for vous. Et fais attention. Si tu écoute ou non, tu as le même devoir ce soir. I'm such a fascist. Regardez-moi toujours! Okay, vous....
Foster: No. Perhaps I could print it on a pillow, and you could have your little conditional napping pillow. Guess, but this time guess something different.
David: Uh, souffriez?
Foster: Oui, et ils pluriel, Adrienne?
Adrienne: Souffraient, a-i-e-n-t.
Foster: Bon. Okay, so the conditional is used to express, well, basically, conditions.
Matt: I think we get it.
Foster: I'm just explaining it, I'm not expecting you to... well, actually, I'm just hoping you won't throw things at my head. Many people with happy lives and good jobs and families that love them don't understand grammar. I feel like I haven't taught you guys anything today. I feel so lazy. Un bon prof: Ne rien faire. Tout faire faire. Ne rien laisser faire. But I'm used to the sucky quality of you people.
Morgan: I actually kind of understand the conditional now.
Foster: Woo! Quelqu'un a appris quelque chose! I'll have to put it on my calendar. Good, well, let's do a little more with it before we move on. Okay. (Writes on the whiteboard, "Si nous avons eu le temps, nous irions à la cinéma." Goes to his desk and takes out the dictionary; looks something up. Puts dictionary down and returns to board, erasing "à la" and writing "au.") It's my great fear to write words on the board with the wrong gender. Do you ever get the feeling that some words just look feminine? They're gay! When I write vertical, all the letters come out wrong. Horizontale, je suis génius. Verticale, je suis moron. I am a board moron. I'm just surprised at how dumb I am. J'espère que vous n'avez pas des allergies aux dictionnaires. I picked up the dictionary and I broke into hives! Jason, read this sentence and point out the conditional.
Jason: Uh, si nous avons eu le temps, nous irions au cinéma. (Mispronounces "cinéma" as "cinny-ma.")
Foster: Non, c'est cinéma. Cinny-ma sounds like something they do in Appalachia. "We're goin' to the cinny-ma! Brush your tooth, honey, we's a-goin' to the cinny-ma!" Yeah, so let's go over that. (Points to an "e.") This is "e." It makes the sound "e." (Points to "é.") This is "é." It makes the sound "é." Always. It would be nice if you could start trusting it. It's okay to make mistakes. It's not okay to make the same ones until you die!
Hilary: Does it really matter that much?
Foster: I keep saying this, and that's because it's true: the reason people don't understand you when you speak French is not because of your grammar. That's just grammar. It's not important. People don't understand you because of your pronunciation!
Adrienne: Well, you don't have to get so upset about it!
Foster: I am probably more like Monk than anyone you know. I've spent the last 20 years studying and teaching French. I'm kinda obsessive about it. The problem with language teachers is generally they're good at languages. They're people who like large collections of words to stuff inside their heads and think you'll know the words too cause you're also a geeky language teacher who didn't get invited to any parties. I'm a member of the Grammar Club... don't hit me.
Margot: Someone sounds a little bitter.
Foster: (Ignores her.) So yes, it's important that you pronounce "e" and "é" correctly. That's one of the biggest problems you guys have with pronounciation. Some of you pronounce French like it's mutant Urdu. But you have to keep working at it. If you stop at that stage where your French is like a mule going up a ladder, it's gonna stay that way. Aujourd'hui, la classe est sponsorisée par les lettres "e" et "é." And you guys say we don't do anything in class. Today we learned how to use the letter "é." You could spend a whole episode of Sesame Street on that. That's part of the cultural rift between the older generations, sadly of which I am part, and the younger generation, who was half raised by TV.
Austin: (Laughs.) You're right.
Foster: I'm always right. It's comforting. (Looks at clock.) How does this class go by so quickly? Okay, pour vos devoirs, lisez les chapitres 22 et 23. Je vais vous envoyer le vocab.
Hilary: Unless there's another Red Sox game that's more important than our education.
Foster: Well, you know, you can look up the words yourself. I just try to be helpful and anticipate the words you don't know. I don't have to do it. In fact, since you suggested it, I think I will watch the Red Sox instead of making up your vocab list.
(Class and Foster exit as lights dim. Curtain closes.)
(Curtain opens for curtain call. Cast comes out and takes their bows.)
Morgan: This play is just like Mr. Foster's real French class.
Foster: Except I'm not really that mean.
Margot: Sure, Mr. Foster, sure.
Jason: But it is mostly stuff that Mr. Foster actually said.
Foster: What did I say? I don't know. I never listen to me.
Matt: All characters in this play are based on real people. All the names are real. We could have changed them, but we didn't, because we're not trying to protect their privacy. If they don't like the way they act in the play, they shouldn't've acted that way in class.
David: And that's the en- (Yawns.)
(Cast bows and exits.)
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