The Perfect Lie, Christmas Version

The King’s foreign minister is a terrible liar, and his Christmas thank you notes are a disaster. After all, Christmas is a time of selfless gift-giving  . . . and lying.  Especially lying. So the King decides to hold a tournament to find out who can tell the best lie. Meanwhile, Peter Piper, from a place called Poppycock with a pittance of a population, has decided to seek his fortune. He’s a pauper, you know. In order to perform a good deed for an unusual woman he meets, he must find (among other things) a holly flower that blooms when a yeti hits puberty, a newborn lamb with two clefts in its right front hoof, and an answer to a riddle for a very large elf. When Peter tells his story to the King, all we can say is that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

Cast Size: 6 Males, 5 Females, 2 M/F, and Extras

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CAST OF CHARACTERS           

 KING JAMES (M) the king of the castle who has summoned the Bard.

 QUEEN ANNE (F) the queen of the castle; she loves a clever story (but not from the Jester).

BARD (M/F) a skilled storyteller who is serious and territorial about his profession.

JESTER (M/F) professional funny-man of the court, who is also territorial.

KING (M) the king in the story who worries about appearances, but has no problems with lying.

FOREIGN MINISTER (M) an honest man who doesn’t understand his role as royal liar for the king.

PETER PIPER (M) a poor peasant from a place called Poppycock.

WISE WOMAN (F) an old woman with a penchant for unusual flowers.

SHEPHERDESS / LISA (F) a young shepherdess with a penchant for unusual sable lambs/ a commoner in the lying contest, round 2.

SIR SHERMAN OF SHROPSHIRE / DUKE DRAGO FROM THE DESERT DUNES (M) a contestant in round 1/ a contestant in round 2.

LADY LANA OF LAUGHLIN / LADY MONICA (F) a contestant in round 1/ a contestant in round 2.

DUKE DOOGIE OF DOON DOUGLAS / ERLAN THE ELF (M) a contestant in round 1/ an elf: a giant, hulking elf.  Cast the biggest actor you can find.

FARM GIRL (F) an honest farm girl who could use a pot of gold.

EXTRAS

LIGHT GUY (M/F) He/she has no speaking lines but controls the lights. And he likes sandwiches.

EXTRAS (M/F) Courtiers for the Royal Table, Servants, Guards, and Pages

 

SAMPLE PAGES

FANFARE AND WELCOME 

(When the guests have been seated, a BRASS FANFARE will signal all entertainers to clear the hall. Lights up on stage. JESTER enters.)

JESTER:
Welcome good lords and ladies fair!
The Christmas spirit’s in the air!
‘Tis the season of our Savior’s birth, (BARD enters and observes.)
A time of joy and a time of mirth!
And now it is my great delight
To welcome you this merry night!

BARD: Excuse me, fine sir, but are you a poet?

JESTER: Why, no.  Isn’t it obvious? (Points to his own outfit.) I am the Jester of this fine court.

BARD: Ah, my mistake.  I could not help but to be impressed with your rhyming.  I thought, perhaps, that you might be a man of letters.

JESTER: (Flattered.) Well, I am a professional with several hidden talents.

BARD: Really?  Do you use metaphors, too?  Alliteration?  Perhaps a little . . . onomatopoeia?

JESTER: Ono-matta-whatta?

BARD: Onomatopoeia.  They are all literary devices.  Highly-valued in my line of work.

JESTER: Oh.  And what kind of work do you do?

BARD: (Dramatically.)  I . . . am a bard.

JESTER: A barge?  (Looks blank.) 

BARD: A bard. A professional story teller.  I have been summoned to this court by your king.

JESTER: That’s right!  The king!

BARD: Yes, the king.

JESTER: No, the king will be here soon!  We must get the banquet ready!  (Loudly, to the back of the hall.) Ready the banquet!  Heat the wassail!

BARD: Bring forth the meat and the finest of ale!

JESTER: Hey, that’s my line!

BARD: Sorry, just trying to help out.

JESTER: Look, you worry about your job, and I’ll worry about mine.

BARD: But, really, I could help you with—

JESTER: (Shoos BARD off-stage.) Off you go. That’s right. (To himself.) Amateurs.
(Loudly, to the back of the hall.)
Ready the banquet!  Heat the wassail!
Bring forth the meat and the finest of ale!
Blow the clarion! Singers appear!
The king and his court are drawing near!

The Queen expresses her preference for the Bard’s storytelling, which makes the Jester jealous. He devises a plan . . . 

JESTER: That big ‘ol tub of bard.  (Sarcastically imitates BARD.)  “When shall I regale you with my tale?”  “Re-gale” is right: a giant blast of hot air.  And he’s ruining that low-brow humor I’ve worked so hard to develop with the King. (Beat.) I’ve got to get that blowhard out of the way.  But how? (Gets an idea.) I know, I’ll spread a rumor that Shakespeare is visiting.  The Bard will make for the village green, with some of his sappy sonnets for Shakespeare to critique.  That should give me time to commandeer the story. (Crosses into audience and finds a table near the front.) Why, Lord Rumormore, is that you? (To rest of audience.) Perfect. (To audience member.) Have you heard the news? Shakespeare is going to be in the village this very night! (Acts as if he’s listening.) Oh, I agree. We must spread the word at once! (Exits.) 

FANFARE AND DESSERT 

(Lights up on Royal Table. BRASS FANFARE.  SERVANTS enter with dessert and gather in front of the ROYAL TABLE.  SINGERS sing another selection.  At the end, SERVANTS serve the dessert.  Give guests about 5 minutes to eat before the masque begins. Lights up on main stage. JESTER enters.) 

THE MASQUE 

QUEEN ANNE: Jester, have you seen the Bard? We are ready for his tale.

JESTER: (Mock shock.) He’s not here?  How unprofessional!

KING JAMES: Where is that Bard?  Guards, summon the Bard at once.

JESTER: (Aside.) Good luck finding him. (Short pause.) Uh, milord, while you are waiting, perhaps I could tell a tale.

QUEEN ANNE: (Looks to KING.) I suppose so. Until the Bard gets here.

JESTER: Your confidence is overwhelming. (Beat.) Lords and ladies of the court, permit me to present for you a tale—

BARD: (Entering.) Excuse me, Jester, but it is my job to narrate the tale for these good folk.  I can take the story from here.

KING JAMES: And where have you been?

BARD: (Looks at Lord Rumormore in audience.) Someone told me that Shakespeare was in the village. Thanks a lot. (To KING.) My apologies, sire.  Even if Shakespeare were in the village (Glares at Lord Rumormore.), I would never neglect my Bardic responsibilities.

JESTER:  And I don’t neglect my Jestic responsibility. I put the “jestic” in “majestic.” (Beat.) Come on, I can liven up your story.

BARD: I don’t need your help.  You can just run along. (JESTER begins to exit.)  Now, then, your majesty, this tale concerns a falsity–

JESTER: Are you sure I can’t help you?

BARD: I’m fine.  Please leave. (JESTER exits. BARD sighs in relief.) This tale concerns an untruth–

JESTER: (Pops his head back in.) I really think I could add to this tale.

BARD: I told you I’m fine! (JESTER exits.) This tale concerns no ordinary fib–

JESTER: (Runs back through the door.) It’s about a lie, already!  A perfect lie!  Get to the point, Bard!

BARD: (Glares at JESTER.) I was doing fine on my own!  Now, you have ruined the build-up!

JESTER: Oh.  You mean all those words had a purpose?

BARD: (Irritated.)  It is the art of story-telling: using many literary devices of which you are not aware.

JESTER: Continue then.  I will observe and learn. 

BARD: Amateur.  Now . . . where was I?  Oh, yes.  The tale of the perfect lie.  Once upon a time in a castle far, far away, there lived a very shrewd and savvy king.  At this time, there were many small realms in the land run by many . . . small kings.  Not that I am saying they were all short, but rather small in their focus, shall we say.  You see, it all started with a yuletide gathering of the kings of the Isles. (He freezes in place.  A long silence.)

JESTER: What are you doing now?

BARD: (Out of the side of his mouth, still frozen.)  Waiting.

JESTER: Oh. (Another pause.) For what?

BARD: (Still frozen.)  For the fade out.

JESTER: Oh. (Another pause.  Looks at Bard’s clothing.) Been washing with bleach again, have we?

BARD: (BARD breaks frozen position in frustration with JESTER.)  No.  A fade out is when the action shifts from one group of characters to another.  It is used in flashbacks, flash-forwards, and to move the action from the narrator to the story. (BARD remembers that he should be frozen in place, and resumes the position.)

JESTER: One of those literary devices you were talking about?

BARD: (Frozen.)  Yes.

JESTER: Oh. (Another pause.)  It doesn’t seem to be working.

BARD: (Frozen.)  We have to wait for the guy controlling the lights to fade out our lights and bring up the lights on another part of the stage.

JESTER: Oh. (Another pause.) Maybe he went out for a sandwich.

BARD: (Becomes unfrozen and unglued.) No, he hasn’t gone out for a sandwich.  He’s probably waiting for you to shut your big mouth so that he has some silence to— (The lights fade.) 

JESTER: (Becomes frozen and speaks out of the side of his mouth.) Ssshhh.  Can’t you see that we are in the middle of a fadeout?  Amateur. (BARD becomes enraged and chases JESTER off stage left.  They pass the KING and FOREIGN MINISTER who are entering from stage left.  The lights are still down.) 

KING: This won’t do, Mr. Foreign Minister!  This simply won’t do! (They are passed by the BARD and JESTER.)  Who was that?

FM: I believe they were the narrators, my king.

KING: Oh. (Pause.) Why have I never seen them before?

FM: They are supposed to exit quietly during the fadeout.  We aren’t supposed to notice them.

KING: Oh. (Pause.) Why is it so dark?

FM: Well, the light man is supposed to bring the lights up on the fade-in.

KING: Oh. (Pause.) Maybe he went out for a sandwich.

FM: I think he’s just lazy.  I mean, anyone who answers an ad for a job involving “light work”—

(The lights go up, then go down.) 

KING: I believe you hurt his feelings. (The lights go up and down, signaling “yes.”) 

FM: Just what we need.  Touchy techies.

KING: Well, you’d best apologize, so that we can get on with this scene.  (Lights come up full.)

FM: (Squinting into lights.) I’m sorry that I called you lazy, incompetent, and dense.

KING: But you didn’t call him incompetent and dense.

FM: Oops.

KING: And that’s your whole problem.  You don’t lie well.

FM: Should we get back to the scene then?

KING: Right.  Of course.  Where was I?

FM: “This won’t do, Mr. Foreign Minister!  This simply won’t do!”

KING: This won’t do, Mr. Foreign Minister!  This simply won’t do!

FM: But your majesty —

KING: I was humiliated.  I told you to write a thank you note to the King of Wales for his Christmas gift.

FM:  But I did!

KING:  But you told him that I hated it.

FM:  But you did!

KING:  That’s not the point.  You are supposed to lie under these circumstances.

FM:  So when I wrote –

KING:  That the Welsh Pudding he sent reminds me of a peat bog, while accurate, was not complimentary to the King of Wales.  And what about that part about muskrats floating in the bog?

FM:  I added that.  Artistic license.

KING:  And what you wrote to the King of Scotland about the kilt he sent me –

FM:  You’re the one who said only girly men wore skirts.  Girly men with hairy ankles.

KING:  The King of Scotland was incensed.  It turns out his wife wears a kilt, too.  And what about what you wrote to the King of Ireland?

FM: What else could I write?  I mean, he sent you a barrel of brown mud!

KING: (Beat.)  Right, you’ve got me there.  What was the King of Ireland thinking?  And who is this Guinness fellow who shipped the mud?  (Beat.) And finally, the King of France.

FM: He sent you snails.  Snails!  How do you write a thank you card for snails?

KING:  You are missing the whole point.  Christmas is a time of selfless gift-giving  . . . and lying.  Especially lying.  Lying with a great, big grin plastered on your face.

FM: Isn’t honesty the best policy?

KING:  You are missing the whole Christmas spirit.  I need a new foreign minister.  I need a better liar.

FM: (Shocked and worried.)  No, your majesty!

KING: Yes, I’m afraid you’re sacked, then.  But don’t worry; I’ll still keep you on in some position that doesn’t require lying.

FM: But, but, that takes me completely out of politics, my king.

KING: True, but I’ve found just the job for you where you can employ the skills you developed in politics.

FM: Royal Steward?  Royal Seneschal?  Royal Exchequer?

KING: Royal Stable Boy.  You have experience shoveling manure.

FM: Oh.

KING: But don’t worry, I’ll keep you on to train in the new guy.

FM: How will you find this “new guy”?

KING: I plan to have a holiday contest to choose my next Foreign Minister: a lying tournament.  Whoever can tell me the most outrageous lie, will be my new Foreign Minister—just in time for the New Year.  I have already sent my heralds to announce the contest.

FM: Oh.  (Beat.) What do we do now?

KING: We wait for the fade-out. (KING and FM both freeze.  There is a pause, but the lights finally go down.  KING and FM exit.  JESTER and BARD enter, strike a pose, and freeze.)