Friday, January 27, 2006

Here's a sample of our new Irish play

Phil and I completed another draft of the play and it's truly remarkable how much we've been able to cut and how tight the piece appears now. It's been very tricky to portray twelve years of a young boy's life in a conservative Northern Irish community in a 90 minute or so play--by that I mean getting in the Northern Irish 70s' political milieu because this was period known as The Troubles and the Catholic minority were under attack by the British government and Unionists, Gabriel's sexual confusion, and the dark family secret involving his Uncle Brendan, the missionary priest--but I believe we've achieved it.


The play exists now in three Acts. As well as having written, Phil has directed in regional theater and he's organized the first reading of our play for February 11th in New York. That's the evening when a group of actors come together at the theater and read the piece in its entirety and we listen to how it all sounds, etc. Phil advises me that members of the public will be in attendance because there are lots of theater lovers who make a point of attending first readings of plays. I'm tremendously excited as this whole experience has been a first for me.

I've also invited my very good friend (and now literary agent) Joan Schweighardt and her husband to attend the public reading because Joan has been Gabriel's champion from the moment she first read A Son Called Gabriel as a manuscript. Joan loved the work so much she took it to my publisher and started the ball rolling toward its publication. For that act of blind faith alone, I would love her. But then she was appointed publicist for both the hard cover and softcover campaigns and, through the amount of time we spent together, our professional relationship transmuted to one of trust and friendship. My father always said to us that we should aim in life to have many good friends and people who one can implicitly trust. Joan is one such person whom I've found on American shores.

As promised, I said I'd post parts of the play. So, here's the first scene from Act One which, any of you who've read the book, will recognize because we tried to stay faithful where possible to the plot. Gabriel is six-years-old when the curtain rises and will be almost nineteen at its end.

A Son Called Gabriel

September 1964 – August 1970
The action of the play takes place in Northern Ireland during the 1960s’ and 70s’ in the house of the Harkin family. All other scenes take place downstage.


ACT ONE


SCENE 1
Off to School



GABRIEL
(He runs across the stage.) I’m definitely not going.

EILEEN
(She walks out onto the stage following Gabriel.) Who do you think you are? Go to school this instant or I’ll fetch a sally rod and beat the living daylights out of you.

GABRIEL
It’s all right for you to say I must go, but you don’t have to deal with Henry Lynch every day. He makes the others gang up on me and you won’t listen.

EILEEN
You must go to school or you’ll just be a stupid Harkin.

GABRIEL
I don’t care.

EILEEN
Last year, you wanted to go so much, I went and got permission for you to start school early.

GABRIEL
That was before I knew Henry Lynch would be in my class.

EILEEN
You must try harder to get him to like you. Talk to him instead of shying away...and don’t take his name-calling to heart. You must be a man, Gabriel. Nobody likes a boy who’s too sensitive.

GABRIEL
I’m still not going.

EILEEN
(She walks into the kitchen and returns with a rod, then runs up to him.) I’m not putting up with this nonsense. Your sister’s starting after the summer holidays and I’m not going to tolerate you showing her a bad example. (She grabs Gabriel’s arm and whips him as she drags him across the stage.) I can’t have you deciding whether you’re going to school or not. Go! (She gives him a shove) Faster, or you’ll be late for class. (She watches for a moment then exits.)

CAROLINE, PEGGY, CELIA, JAMES, NOEL and HENRY enter and sit with their lunches at the desks down stage right. GABRIEL runs on carrying a chair and places it in front of HENRY. CONNOR and MARTIN roll a large blackboard into the classroom.

GABRIEL
(He turns around to face HENRY.) Henry, would you like one of my ham sandwiches?

HENRY
Why would you give me one of your sandwiches, Harkin?

GABRIEL
(He pauses.) I thought you might like to try something different.

HENRY
Have you spit on it?

GABRIEL
I have not indeed. I’d like us to be friends, Henry, so I’ll also give you my chocolate today.

HENRY
I’ll take the chocolate bar, but I wonÂ’t have the sandwich unless you eat a piece of my Indian scone.

GABRIEL
I’m not so very hungry today.

HENRY
Is my scone not good enough for you to eat, Harkin? Is that what this is about?

GABRIEL
No. I just thought youÂ’d like some ham for a change, that’s all.

HENRY
Harkin, are you saying my ma can’t afford to buy ham?

GABRIEL
(He places his sandwich on HENRY’S desk.)

HENRY
I’ll have a tiny, tiny piece, then. (He breaks off a piece of scone and hands it to Gabriel. They watch each other chew.) How do you like my ma’s scone?

GABRIEL
Delicious.

HENRY
In that case, you can have the rest and I’ll take another ham sandwich.


HENRY looks toward the door as FATHER. MCATAMNEY enters. GABRIEL pulls a long hair out of the sandwich, twists up his face as he regards it, and then throws it away.


FATHER MCATAMNEY
Time for your catechism, boys and girls. First Holy Communion will soon be here. (He looks over at Henry and Gabriel) I see you two’ve been sharing each other’s lunches. Look, girls and boys! Look at the example Henry and Gabriel are setting. They’ve been sharing. Sharing is good to do. Now, who can raise their hand and tell me another person who shared a feast? (No one raises their hand.) I’ll give you a hint. His name begins with a ‘J.’ (Still no hands go up.) Jesus, boys and girls. Remember...remember I told you Jesus gave his body to the apostles to eat?


FATHER MCATAMNEY walks back to the blackboard and starts writing. HENRY prods GABRIEL.

HENRY
Listen, Harkin. From now on, you have to hand over all your chocolate bars or whatever treats you have for lunch.

GABRIEL
I can’t do that, Henry.

HENRY
If you don’t, I’m going to make it very rough for you.

GABRIEL
Henry, I really want us to be friends, but what you’re asking me to do isn’t right.

HENRY
Don’t tell me what’s right, you fucking sissy boy. (He prods his finger into Gabriel’s chest like a jackhammer.) I’ll give you a good thrashing if you don’t give me the chocolate…and you’d better have picked a football team to be your favorite by lunchtime or you’ll get hit as well.


FATHER MCATAMNEY rings a hand bell signaling that class is over. The kids all get up from their desks and gather downstage. CAROLINE, PEGGY, CELIA and GABRIEL stand off to the side talking. MARTIN, CONNOR and JAMES toss the ball back and forth to each other. Finally, HENRY intercepts it.


HENRY
Hey, Harkin, come here.


GABRIEL walks over and the other boys gather around.


HENRY
Have you picked a soccer team to support yet?

GABRIEL
I quite like Chelsea.

HENRY
Why Chelsea?

GABRIEL
I like the color of their outfits...and Chelsea’s a nice part of England.

HENRY
The color of their kit doesn’t matter a fuck. (He smacks the top of GABRIEL’S head with his palm.) What an eejit, right fellas?

GABRIEL
Stop hitting me, Henry. That’s not allowed.

HENRY
Don’t tell me what’s allowed, you big sissy. (He hits GABRIEL on the side of the face.) Come on, Harkin. Fight me, or are you a yellabelly?

GABRIEL
(He stares at Henry.)

NOEL
Come on, Gabriel. Don’t let a chap from the other side of Knockburn beat you.


GABRIEL looks at NOEL but still does not fight.


HENRY
(He turns GABRIEL around, kicks him in the ass, and he falls to the ground. HENRY raises his fists up like a boxer and begins dancing around GABRIEL.)


All the BOYS laugh and cheer.

GABRIEL
(He stands up slowly.)

HENRY
(He hits him in the nose.)

BOY
Leave him alone, Henry.

NOEL
He has to fight. Come on Gabriel, he’s made you bleed. Hit him and let’s see the color of his blood.

GABRIEL
I don’t want to fight.

NOEL
Don’t be a coward.

GABRIEL
Fighting’s for animals. They don’t know any better. (He lowers his fists and turns to leave.)

HENRY
(He pushes GABRIEL real hard.) Go and play with the girls like you always do, sissy boy.

The school BELL rings. All the KIDS disperse.

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