"Dr Ox: The Experiment"

By Rod Thompson

from a short story by Jules Verne

First performed by Villanova Players in September 2006.

This script is available by negotiation to other groups

Please e-mail for more information.

The Play

Set in the peaceful Flemish town of Quiquendone - the town that time forgot, and the map-makers missed.

"Here's a town where there hasn't been the shadow of a disagreement for a century.
Where the cab drivers don't swear, the dogs don't bark, the cats don't scratch.
A town where the police-court has nothing to do from one year's end to the next.
A town where crime is as good as a myth, and where not an indictment has been drawn up for one hundred years.
A town, in short, where for three centuries nobody has struck a blow in anger!"

But Dr Ox is determined that this will change!!

Doctor Ox is an intriguing book, covering, as it does, the subject of scientific responsibility - a subject that became progressively more important to everyone through the events of the 20th century. What sets this book apart is that it approaches this serious issue in such a light-hearted way. Doctor Ox is not an "evil scientist", or even a monomaniac like Dr Frankenstein, but in the same way as Frankenstein, he lets his enthusiasm with his experiment carry him to unintended consequences. In Dr Ox's case, the results are more comic than tragic.

The Adaptation

Cast: 12 Male, 8 Female (or 11 Male, 9 Female)

Playing time 2hr including 20min interval (1hr 40min excluding interval)

Dramatis Personae

Jules Verne Narrator - in control of proceedings, sophisticated and self-assured for the most part. Occasionally he struggles to maintain this control.
Van Tricasse Burgomaster of Quiquendone - plump, comfortable, 40'ish.
Mevrouw Brigitte Van Tricasse Van Tricasse's wife - fifteen years older than Van Tricasse.
Tatty ("Hermace") Van Tricasse's old maid sister - mid forties.
Suzel Van Tricasse Daughter of Van Tricasse - sweet sixteen.
Lotche Van Tricasse's maid - ancient.
Councillor Niklause Thin, craggy, about 60.
Frantz Niklause Son of Councillor Niklause, engaged to Suzel.
Commissar Passauf Police Commissar - has been dashing and handsome, now mid forties and becoming comfortable.
Doctor Ox Intense and single minded, but not the cliché "mad scientist".
Gedeon Ygene Assistant to Doctor Ox.
Collart Wealthy banker
Mevrouw Collart Wife of Collart - something of a social climber.
Simon Collart Son of Collart, and later rival to Frantz in Suzel's affections.
Andre Schut Lawyer.
Mevrouw Schut Wife of Schut.
Doctor Dominique Custos Town doctor - pompous know-all.
Mevrouw Custos Wife of Custos.
Jean Orbideck: Confectioner - plump and jolly, becomes megalomaniac.
Townsfolk, musicians etc.

The stage setting

The Oudenarde gate dominates the scene, centre stage. It consists of two towers, one of which is tilted to a precarious angle. The remainder of the scene is illustrative rather than realistic, and the action moves from scene to scene without a break. The characters move the chairs and tables as needed, but usually this is left to Lotche, who is so slow about it that Verne helps her out - in frustration at her inefficiency.
The actual laboratory of Dr Ox, where the cocks and equipment are seen, should be in some way outside the set proper, if possible on a higher level. When the cocks are turned on, wisps from a smoke machine should be seen from the appropriate conduits.

Note on the Playing

In the book, and in the dialogue of the characters, it is stated that the people of Quiquendone are slowly spoken, and slow in actions. The lines should not be played slowly. The initial scene should give some suggestion, but the main theme is that the town does not change, and no-one ever disagrees. Any slow delivery in the dialogue past the first few lines will cause the flow of the play to get bogged down.

Act 1 should play in 50 minutes, and Act 2 in 40 minutes.


Act I

Scene 1 Van Tricasse's formal room.
(Van T, Nik, Suzel, Tatty, Brigitte, Verne).

The play opens with the two man council of Quiquendone (Van Tricasse and Niklausse) discussing the affairs of the town. It becomes clear that they are not merely indecisive, but make a virtue of indecisiveness.
"A man who lives and dies without ever having decided anything .. has achieved a kind of perfection".
Jules Verne enters, apologising to the audience for being late, and introduces the players and the women of the household (a little annoyed that his creations have started the play without him).

Scene 2 Van Tricasse's formal room. (Nik, Van T, Lotche, Passauf, Tatty, Verne).
The meeting continues - mentioning such items as the Oudenarde gate - about to collapse, and the leather market - still burning. These and other urgent matters are deferred to the next meeting.
Commissar Passauf enters with the devastating news that, at a reception in Dr Ox's drawing room, a disagreement has taken place. This is the first disagreement that has happened in the town for more than 300 years, and all are shocked by the news. We also learn in this scene that Van Tricasse's "old maid" sister Tatty harbours secret feelings for Pasauff.
Scene 3 General stage area (Dr Ox's presentation to audience). (Ox, Ygene, Verne).

Dr Ox is introduced and, assisted by Ygene, he gives a marketing-style presentation (with anachronisms) of his proposal to light the town with the new modern, environmentally-friendly oxy-hydrogen gas process he has invented. It also becomes clear that this is not the real purpose of the experiment, and that the people of Quiquendone are his experimental subjects.

Scene 4 Van Tricasse's formal room, Town square and Dr Ox's reception room.
(Brigitte, Van T, Nik, Townsfolk, Schut, Custos, Ox, Ygene, Verne).

The council members decide to visit Dr Ox and ascertain the facts regarding the disagreement that Pasauff has reported. The villagers are introduced to the audience by Verne (and some get a bit out of hand especially Orbideck the confectioner, who is offering samples to the audience).
Van Tricasse and Niklausse visit Dr Ox, but their friendly visit becomes a shouting match for no apparent reason (apart from the fact that the audience see the gas cocks being turned on)..

Scene 5 Town square and river bank.
(Frantz, Simon, Suzel, Verne).

A pleasant interlude, with Suzel Van Tricasse and her suitor Simon embarking on a fishing (and embroidery) expedition on the banks of the River Vaar - unproductive but quietly romantic.

Scene 6 Grand Ballroom
(Full cast, Ygene in laboratory).

The grand ball - the highlight of the social season in Quiquendone. Dr Ox has connected his pipes to the ballroom, and this quiet dance turns into a melee. During this scene, we becomes aware that Simon (the son of the wealthy banker - Collart) is also interested in Suzel. Pasauff and Tatty take to the dance floor and are completely oblivious of everything else going on around them.

Act II

Scene 1 Town square. (Frantz, Suzel, Tatty Passauf, Verne).
Dr Ox has now run his oxygen pipes throughout the town. At the start of the act, we are aware that things have changed dramatically. Noise, arguments, general chaos reigns. In particular, the quiet relationship between Suzel and Frantz takes on a higher degree of urgency (particularly on Frantz's part). The same is true of Tatty and Pasauff)
Scene 2 Van Tricasse's formal room. (Van T, Lotche, Suzel, Frantz, Tatty, Passauf, Brigitte, Verne)
Lotche, the servant shows signs that not all is as it was on the domestic front. First Suzel and Frantz, then Pasauff and Tatty demand immediate weddings - they cannot wait any longer. Meanwhile, the women of the town are organising - they have been down-trodden too long.
Scene 3 Outside Van Tricasse's house (Suzel runs into formal room for pistols). (Frantz, Suzel, Simon, Verne).
Simon and Frantz decide that they must fight a duel over Suzel. She is quite impressed by the romance of this, but as they cannot find two working pistols in town, and neither lad will trust the other with Suzel, they set out together to borrow them from Oudenarde - a nearby town.
Scene 4 Oudenarde (identical scene to Act 2 Sc 3). (Van T as Van Bistrom, Simon, Frantz, Verne).

In Oudenarde (which looks exactly like Quiquendone), Van Bistrom - who looks exactly like Van Tricasse - greets the lads who ask to borrow duelling pistols. They cannot explain what they want them for, since - out of the atmosphere created by Dr Ox, they forget their argument. They return home best of friends again

Scene 5 Town square (Quiquendone). (Simon, Frantz, Schut, Orbideck, Custos, Nik, Van T, Ygene, townsmen, Verne)
On their return to Quiquendone, the lads re-interpret the results of the visit to Oudenarde, and become offended because van Bistrom has refused their request. This insult is taken up by the town, in conjunction with a remembered insult from hundreds of years before, and a war is declared on Oudenarde.
Scene 6 Dr Ox's laboratory. (Ygene, Ox, Verne).
Ygene is beginning to worry about the ethics of the experiment, and the effect it is having on the townsfolk. He asks Ox to close the valve. Ox refuses.
Scene 7 Van Tricasse's formal room, belfry tower. (Van T, Nik, Verne)
The town council is meeting - as a war cabinet. They argue violently on every point - without actually disagreeing on anything. They climb the belfry tower to plan strategies, but at the top of the tower, their arguments, and the war itself are forgotten. Back at ground level, they challenge each other to a duel.
Scene 8 Town square (under Oudenarde Gate). (All except Ox and Ygene).

The army is assembled below the Oudenarde gate, but the women of the town are also holding a rally there. The two events collide, and there is some confusion.

Scene 9 Dr Ox's laboratory. (Ox, Ygene, Verne).

(This scene takes place during a freeze in the town square scene). Ygene steals into the laboratory, and turns off the gas cock. Ox catches him at it, and sacks him. Ox addresses the audience - justifying his actions, but when he turns on the cock, he has been distracted, and he turns on the Hydrogen cock by mistake.

Scene 10 Town square (under Oudenarde Gate). (Full cast).

Ygene runs in and tries to tell the townsfolk about the experiment, and to persuade them to stop the war. Ox rushes in and wrestles Ygene to the ground. Amid the general melee, Van Tricasse decides to light his pipe.
There is a violent explosion (interrupted by Verne - who discusses the nature of tragedy and comedy). The folk are thrown to the ground, and the Oodenarde gate (which we have expected to fall onto everyone) is blown back upright.

Epilogue Grand Ballroom (Full cast).

It is 6 years later, and all are returned to normal. It is Suzel's wedding to .... (but Verne hasn't decided if it should be to Simon or Frantz).