Two Tiny Plays for Ireland: 'Soul Mates' and 'Slanesman'
To mark the beginning of Tiny Plays for Ireland, here are two plays from the series, by Maeve Binchy and Colum McCann
In 2011, The Irish Times and Fishamble: The New Play Company put an open call for short plays of no more than 600 words. We received 1,700 entries, and a selection from new and established writers was produced at the Project, Dublin in March 2012. Tiny Plays for Ireland 2 features a new selection and runs at the Project until March 30th.
by Maeve Binchy
In the waiting room of an opticians. Two patients, waiting for their appointments.
Rose, nurse, late 20s, great reader of books who thinks reluctantly that print is getting smaller and that she needs reading glasses.
Kevin, teacher, early 30s, much mocked in his school for his owlish appearance, needs cool frames.
It is entirely interior monologues but they do acknowledge each other with nods and glances across the magazine table.
Rose: You know, they really know what they’re doing in this place, there’s no lighting here at all, anyone would think they were going blind. I never thought my eyes would go. I always thought it would be the legs, that I’d get ropes of veins like my mam, but no, they’re fine, they’d take me anywhere. It’s the eyes that died on me.
Kevin: I suppose he’ll say I’m a fool to want something trendy. I don’t even know what trendy is. But other guys wear glasses and the kids don’t say Too Whit Too Woo when they come into the classroom.
Rose: I had no idea how dark it was in here, I can’t finish the new Colm Tóibín, there’s no point in my picking up one of those glossy magazines, I’d only see the pictures.
Kevin: That woman across the room has the new Colm Tóibín beside her, never opened it, not once. Probably bought it to show off anyway. God, women are beyond belief. I mean, I thought I understood Hilary. And now it’s all solicitor’s fees the whole time and threats of palimony and demands for support. I mean, she lived in my house, and when it was over it was over. If it was her house, I’d have gone. It was never our house.
Rose: I suppose it won’t matter having glasses. Nobody sees me when I’m reading. Charlie just hated when I got lost in a book. I remember trying to tell him the story of My Cousin Rachel, and he didn’t even care whether Rachel was a heroine or a villain. “It’s only an old story,” he kept saying.
But there won’t be any more fellows in the near future, the flat’s too small for one thing. Charlie and I were always falling over each other.
Anyway, I’m too tired when I get off my shift in the hospital, all I need is a good bath, something to put in the microwave and my book.
Kevin: I wonder what Hilary would advise about glasses. She was always interested in how I looked, I’ll give her that. At the start, we were great pals; it’s lonely without her. I tell the lads that I’m playing the field, but I’m not really. I just go home after school, correct the essays, set up classes for the next day, read a bit, look at television.
The house seems very big for me but there you go.
Rose: Charlie left shrugging his shoulders, carrying all his belongings in one bag. No fuss, no rows. Only mystification that I actually liked reading things that never happened, old stories, old made-up things.
Kevin: God that girl across the waiting room must be learning the pattern on the carpet off by heart. Hasn’t she a book beside her and a stack of magazines on the table. Of course, she could be going blind or something. She has a kind sort of face.
Rose: That fellow with the Billy Bunter glasses over there has a nice face, bet he’s a vet or something kind. Of course those kind faces often turn out to be desperate things like bankers. Or drop-outs like Charlie who don’t believe in taxes, or working all day, or anything like that.
Kevin: I could talk to her but . . . I mustn’t do that. Not any more.
Rose: I could ask him if he comes here often. Or something a bit less silly. But then he mightn’t want to talk, he’s been reading that soccer gossip magazine since I came in. He’s content the way he is, he doesn’t want to be bothered. I’m so used to starting conversations because I do that all day in the hospital. I should be glad of a bit of peace here and I would be glad, if only I could read.
Kevin: I only wish I had asked her for a loan of that book. She wasn’t reading it, I’d be well stuck into it now rather than this stupid magazine about soccer players and their wives.
It could have been a peaceful half an hour. But then the risk, the sheer risk . . . At least I’ve learned not to do that any more.
Oh yes, he’s ready for me, good.
Kevin smiles at Rose.
Kevin(To Rose): “I won’t be long in there, just choosing new frames actually.”
Rose: “The ones you have are fine.”
Kevin(To himself): That’s funny. No one ever said that before.
She’d be really bad news. Just sitting there fidgeting and looking uneasy. Why have a book if you’re not going to read it. I couldn’t take another three years of that, even if she were interested.
Kevin(To Rose): “Good luck now.”
Rose(To herself): Pity he’s really up himself about the bloody frames. Nothing wrong with his glasses. I wouldn’t want to be within a mile of him, him and his football and the Wags and the whole culture. Let him go. No, Rose, no more smiling at him or the likes of him. Soon I’ll have nice big glass eyes and can read properly. That’s what I will do, until I fall over a soul mate somewhere along the line.
Head down now, no more eye contact. Okay, breathe again.
by Colum McCann
Lights up. In the centre of the otherwise bare stage, a man, C, sits at an empty work desk, his feet propped up, looking out at the audience. He is dressed in a contemporary businessman’s suit, open tie, polished shoes.
B, a woman, comes out stage left. She is wears a long, flowing, humble dress. She is redolent of more ancient times. A, an older man who has worked the bogs, comes out stage right: traditional Irish clothing, sleeves rolled up. They stand to the side of the desk; move around it and behind it. It should be odd – the clash of the old and the new. All the time C remains at his desk.
A: It’s an ancient story.
B: They’re all ancient stories.
A: He was good with a slean. He could dig the height of a man.
B: He was always there, sculpting the earth.
A: We watched him.
B: A joy to watch.
A: First there was the scraw.
B: You used a scraitheog.
C: When you cut through the scraw it’s like opening up the top of your skull.
B: It’s a long blade on a piece of sally.
A: Then there’s the white turf.
C: It gives way quickly to the proper dark.
A: Sometimes he’d dig the length of a sunrise before he could harvest.
B: We’d bring him milk and fresh bread from the oven.
A: There were slanesmen, wheelers, barrowmen, stackers.
B: The sod was tossed to the waiting barrowmen.
A: Spread out on the cutaway.
B: To be stacked and dried.
C: You could tell the time of day from the length of ditch shadows.
B: The sods became heavier the more the day went on.
A: More water in the cut.
B: A man would time his muscle to the sunset.
A: You’d see the long dresses traipsing across the green sedge.
B: Flasks of tea in the late afternoon. Our children coming home from school. Their arms stretched wide. Making airplanes across the land. Like they were already leaving.
A: If the cut was deep enough, they’d lower baskets.
B: Down there –
C: What we wanted –
A: The deeper you go –
C: Something beyond soil.
B: – the more water seeps in the hole.
C: The carcass of an elk. A scroll. A chalice. That’s what we wanted. As the years went on. Chalices.
A: A sudden burst of water.
B: . . . it filled the ditch.
A: he was so tired –
B: there were no platforms –
A: he couldn’t climb out
B: Too deep down.
A: He scrambled at the edges
B: Laid the slean across the ditch –
A: – it snapped when he grabbed it.
A: they had no ropes
B: We could hear him from a distance.
C: The quiet drip and drizzle of a dream.
A: My son.
B: Our boy. A slanesman.
A: We could hear him. He was still calling –
B: – from underground. There he was. Calling out for us.
A: Sometimes I think I’m still down there with him
B: – digging.