What are Neighbours for? Winner of the Cecil-Day Lewis Award.
Tom and his wife, Joan are neighbours to Michael and his invalid wife, Dorothy. As Tom, a busy executive, is rushing off to work, Joan tells him that her frilly panties have gone missing from their clothesline. Tom phones later to say he has to work that night (Joan’s birthday, which she presumes he has forgotten about). She visits Dorothy and shares her birthday cake with her. Dorothy tells Joan that Michael does all the washing in the house and that she is on sleeping pills since her ‘fall’.
Meanwhile in Tom’s office, his secretary, Jocelyn (who had been sexually abused previously by a man) tries unsuccessfully to persuade Tom to go out with her.
That night Michael, knowing that Tom is away, visits Joan on the pretext of being a caring neighbour. Joan is tipsy. Jocelyn phones in a jealous rage to say Tom is not with her. Joan, despairing of her husband’s apparent thoughtlessness, dances for Michael and asks him to draw her. Michael produces her panties from his pocket and tries to force her to put them on.
Later Tom returns from work carrying a birthday present for Joan. He meets Dorothy in her wheelchair at her front door looking for Michael. Tom helps her back into her house. Dorothy reveals Michael’s fetish to Tom. Tom hears a scream coming from his house and the play ends as he fumbles for his house keys.
The Fall, was performed in the Source Arts Centre, Thurles, 2007, directed by Donal Gallagher of Asylum Productions.
An elderly widowed father is on his weekly visit to his son’s house. The father is still in mourning for his wife who died three years previously. In the exchanges between father and son we gain a glimpse into the lives of two vulnerable people trying to be independent of each other and ultimately failing. The father’s house has been burgled. The son’s wife, Aisling, is away and ‘may not be back.’ The son is made to feel guilty by the father’s prodding innuendo. The father looks out the sitting room window at the leaves falling in his son’s garden and wonders insinuatingly where his son was when he fell down or when his wife died. To the son, the father is a querulous old man and is resentful of the power he holds over him. Yet, disturbingly, he is in awe of his father’s defiance as he departs to tackle the burglars of his house.
The kernel of the play: The old man visits his son as a pitiable encumbrance and leaves as a stolid defiant.
The son is critical and unwelcoming towards the father initially (because of his whining and fault finding and the embarrassment he caused on a previous occasion down in the local pub). But the pathos of the play revolves around the change that can come over them – a reversal in their characters almost – as they engage with one another in dialogue and argument through a stranglehold of what constitutes the magnetic draw and pulling away of a biological parent and his offspring. The son in the beginning of the play wishes to banish his father, but in the end is imploring him to stay (the reversal of the Freudian mandate). The play poses the question: who is strong in the world and who is weak? Are our presumptions and perceptions about people always right? Is not everyone, regardless of their age, brittle behind their facades? And generations, are they deep down so different (as the father would like to believe) and particularly as we witness the son carrying forward a similar dependency on the female (their inability to iron) as the father did himself? The challenge of the play, as I see it, is to convincingly portray the transmogrification of these two characters (or to dig into and make them realise – despite their inability to communicate emotionally with each other – their fundamental similarities). There is a parallel in Cervantes where the knight and squire, integrate and affect each other to the extent that it leads in the words of Salvador de Madariaga to the ‘quixotification of Sancho Panza and the sanchification of Don Quixote’. The challenge of course is to try to effect something like this in a forty minute play. (Cervantes had the luxury of 800 pages) – apparent polarities meeting and interacting so intensely with each other that they emerge as different and enriched people, carrying in themselves the otherness of someone else.