The Best Of Times, The Worst of Times by Cory O’Neile

Madame Defarge pointed at the captured nobleman, a strong aroma of wine clinging to her like an invisible fog. The bloodthirsty crowd around the guillotine was a moving mass of screaming peasants, death on their tongues and weapons in their hands.

“Down with the aristocrats!” Defarge declared, and the blade dro-

“CUT!”

Madame Defarge dropped her stance, slumping, and turned to look behind her, where the set suddenly cut off to reveal several cameras and monitors, a watching group of producers, and in front of all them with an exasperated posture, the director.

“What?”

“No, that’s, that’s not it!” shouted the director, and moved onto the set. “Can you hear what I’m saying? You are not acting hard enough.”

“Well, how am I supposed to act?” snapped Defarge. She stood with her arms by her sides, looking very distinctly not like a French revolutionist.

The director swept up the stairs to the execution stage, his cap pulled firmly over his head. The letters D-I-R-E-C-T-O-R were emblazoned in capital letters across the front. He made a grand gesture. “You are Madame Defarge, key player in the French Revolution and the most savage of the lot. You’re the one, the big one, you have to be big! The leader! Madame Defarge!”

“I’m trying,” responded Defarge in a small voice. “It’s just hard, when the dialogue is so terrible.”

A great hush went over the crowd of hired extras still on the set. Somewhere behind the set, someone coughed quietly.

The director stared at her with a mixture of confusion and incredulity. Slowly his brow furrowed. “What are you talking about, Not-Defarge?” he said venomously.

“I’m saying that it’s hard to take this seriously when the cheesiness is out of this world.”

“This is Dickens, woman! Dickens!”

“This wasn’t even in the stupid book,” said Defarge simply. “How is this Dickens?”

The director looked at her as if she actually was a half-crazed, axe-wielding radical unleashing on a bunch of French marquis. “Listen to me, you peasant,” he said. “Maybe I have to put this in simple terms for you to understand what I’m saying, but I have hired you to play a very important role in a cinematic adaption of a Tale of Two Cities, so you’d better bloody well play it just how I want you to. I’m the director, you’re the actor; I’m the farmer, you’re the sheep. You don’t question me. This is Dickens because I say it’s Dickens.”

“It’s still a crap script.”

Another shiver ran through the crowd of extras, and someone let out an amused whistle. The director’s face turned a bright shade of red at the sound and he straightened up like a proud eagle whose feathers had been severely ruffled, and attempted to ignore the whispers moving through the watchers (and even more irksome for him, through the nearby producers).

“Do you want to be fired, Not-Defarge?” he hissed.

“Not really.”

“Then perhaps you should curtail your tongue. My fellow contributors and I have worked very hard on this script-“

“It shows.”

“-and if you don’t appreciate that effort then I suggest you depart from this project immediately.”

The director smirked inwardly as the woman fell silent. He knew that would get her. The advantage of hiring no-name actors in large productions was that they usually played the character exactly to your specifications rather than branching out on their own.

You were the god, and they the worshippers.

“Let that audience know you’re a lunatic,” said the director, inches from Defarge’s face. “Broil their blood with your ferocity and make them fear for their lives even as they sit in their seats. You’re the bad guy, they have to know that. Pull a Vader, pull a Gary freaking Oldman. You’re holding an axe; wave it. Wave it fierce, woman, swing it about your head like a dead cat that you’re about to shotput for a world record at the World Triathlon Tournament.”

Defarge stared at him dully. “What?”

The director snapped his fingers. “I’ll show you how it’s done. Give me the axe.”

“I wish I could…”

“Very funny, just give it to me.”

One axe later, the director pointed at the captured nobleman, a strong aroma of wine clinging to him like an invisible fog. The bloodthirsty crowd around the guillotine was a moving mass of screaming peasants, death on their tongues and weapons in their hands.

The director leered, and then very pointedly looked over to where Madame Defarge stood with her arms folded. He raised his axe into the air, and the crowd exploded into a new wave of frenzied cries.

“DOWN WITH THE ARISTOCRATS!” bellowed the director, and the blade dropped.

One thought on “The Best Of Times, The Worst of Times by Cory O’Neile

  1. Nice short Cory! Simply told, and engagingly so. Nice full circle to round it out, though my taste would have been for some sort of cheeky final victory for the actor. You’ve hit the brief well. Good luck mate!

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