In an elaborate 18th Century Greco-French topiary labyrinth of Sparta, we find Hesione, a stern philosopher, and her
beautiful young nephew, Agis. She sings, "This Day of Days," pining for the day when Agis will kill the wicked Princess Leonide, who stole their kingdom. Her valet Harlequin and gardener Dimas arrive to report that Hermocrates, Hesione’s brother and--perhaps--Sparta’s most diligent philosopher, is planning Agis’ trip to kill Leonide. Harlequin and Dimas are overjoyed at the prospect of the trip to get away from their overly sedate masters. Hermocrates enters and continues the song
as he arms Agis for the trip. They all join in on the finale praising the impending death of Leonide, the devil’s spawn.
As they exit, a beautiful young woman enters unseen by them: it is Princess Leonide, followed by her wisecracking maid, Corine. The Princess has a heroic crush on Agis, not knowing that his sole mission in life is to kill her. She sings of her love in, "Anything." She is on a mission of love, where, as she sings, "I’d blow the pyramids to bits!/
Desecrate a shrine, take a vow of chastity . . . become his concubine." In short, she wants her man and she will do anything for love. Knowing that women—other than Hesione—are strictly forbidden in the garden, both Leonide and Corine dress as men, Phocion and Troy. As they practice their manly poises, Harlequin arrives and introduces himself as the Harlequin, "Classic Clown."
Harlequin immediately discovers that they are women. The Princess explains that she wants to
woo Agis and, he, struck by her sincerity, agrees to help. Dimas arrives, singing of a gardener’s life. As they meet, Agis enters and is immediately impressed with ‘Phocion’s’ noble and refined visage. As they exit, Corine and Harlequin are even more abruptly affected by each other, "I find that my inclination is growing by leaps and bounds." Agis and the disguised Princess vow to be faithful friends in, "The Bond That Can’t Be Broken." She immediately implores him to
arrange a meeting for her with his uncle, Hermocrates. He agrees and, moved by their friendship, he reveals what he has never told another soul: he is the true Prince of Sparta. This is all news to her. He explains the whole story: his parents killed and the kingdom lost. He asks her to renounce all passion and to be guided solely by logic. She must also swear to kill Leonide! She agrees.
Corine and Harlequin enter decrying the vicissitudes of love and Corine sings of her passion for
him in, "Mr. Right." Hesione and Dimas appear on the other side of the garden. Princess Leonide as Phocion entreats Hesione to allow her to have an audience with Hermocrates. Hesione refuses and Leonide sings, "You May Call Me Phocion," feigning passionate love for Hesione. Hesione is flustered but titillated and agrees to send Phocion to Hermocrates.
Corine enters and Dimas engage in a little verbal sparring that degenerates into a wrestling match during which
Dimas discovers Corine’s true sex. Corine reveals that her mistress loves Agis and tries all too successfully to seduce him, ". . . put your peaches in my lap," says he. Surprised by her seduction’s success, she’s struck silent and then sings a reprise of, "Mr. Right." They leave together.
The princess reappears and finds Hermocrates. She expresses her desire to take up the life of the mind under his tutelage. He warns her of the rigors of such a life and cautions
her regarding the unsavory nature of the heart in, "Emotions." He sees through her disguise and realizes that she is a she. She claims to be, ‘Aspasie,’ and continues the song proclaiming that her admiration for Hermocrates goes well beyond his mind. Through her advances his passion begins to swell and, seeing her efforts bare fruit, she leaves him wanting more and says that they can develop the specifics of her course of study later. Hermocrates tells Dimas to follow ‘him’ and keep
him away from Agis. Hesione arrives and asks Hermocrates to take Phocion as a pupil. He refuses and they leave.
The princess and Agis arrive as Agis discourses about his hate for the odious sex that goads men to love. Further, he tells her that he is off today to seek out and kill Leonide. Suddenly, she uncaps her hair revealing her true sex and claims to be ‘Cecile’. She sings of how princess Leonide decreed that she marry one Hubert, who, "smelled of vinegar and cheese,"
and so she ran away ("The Sad and Sordid Saga of Cecile"). He is entranced. He explores his feelings in, "Issue in Question."
Hesione tells the princess (as Phocion) that she must go. The princess responds taking her seduction up a notch. At the agreed moment, Corine arrives with a portrait of Hesione that Phocion plans to treasure in lieu of any other way to express his love. Touched, Hesione tells of her youth when the fickle affections of the boys hurt her
feelings and of who she escaped that pain by taking up the life of the mind in, "Serenity." Overwhelmed, she admits her love for Phocion, kisses ‘him’ and promises to win Hermocrates’ permission for him to stay.
Agis passes by still working on the issue in question as Hermocrates asks Dimas the results of his spying on the princess. Dimas reveals that which Hermocrates already knows, that Phocion is a woman. Dimas tells him to marry her and join the world, as it were.
Agis enters again, still mulling things over, sings "Issue in Question," as the princess waves at both Hesione and Hermocrates, each thinking her loving look is theirs alone. Corine enters and the princess brings her up to date. Hermocrates enters and begins a lesson in logic but keeps being distracted by the princess’ charms. Harlequin enters with a portrait of Hermocrates for the princess repeating the portrait technique utilized for Hesione. Hermocrates wilts.
and demands to see the princess alone but accidentally lets them know that he’s revealed his identity as the true prince of Sparta. He’s embarrassed and leaves. The others leave and, thinking Agis won’t love her anymore, the princess sings, "Teach Me Not to Love You."