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Stage Directions

by Donough MacNamara


Silence. Baby cries in darkness.
Lights on.
    Picture a man seated on an upturned bucket, centre stage. To left and right cement bollards. Bare wooden floorboards strewn with guide ropes. Man is holding knees in arms, head down, humming faintly. Rocking back and forth.
    Light first focused on MAN, then taking in two bollards to left and right. Cries of gulls. Light spreads to all of front stage.
    Hear the sound of waves and howling wind.
    MAN raises his head to stare blankly at first into void before him. Smiles - nervously? in recognition? - for a passing moment, then lowers head, not as far as before, to stare at floor. Rocks again, but only slightly, just perceptible, as a person does when trying to offer him or herself some bare comfort without giving any secret away to outsiders.
    Lights come on behind him, to reveal cement beams, plastered with graffiti, rising behind him, converging in the shadows above. Converging, yes, converging, as his legs do when he tries to lock his feet together in an eternal lock of love to keep himself from moving. He stands afraid and solid as a stone.
    Afraid and solid as a stone - but for how long? Not too long, hopefully not, for now he turns to stare into the blankness in front of him for a longer span of time, without bowing, without straightening his joyous face. A new joy is borne in the lines of his features - the joy of discovery.
    He turns right - some might say stage left - and strides off across his tiny world. Stops behind the bollard on the left, faces forward over the bollard into the sea that watches him, points without looking, smiles. Bends down to pick up a mug, looks forward into sea, points at mug with finger of other hand, looks forward, smiles.
    No fear. And listen to the gulls. And listen to the sea, where you will always swim.
    MAN walks back to upturned bucket, sits down, considers, banging mug on knee. Mug hits certain pressure point, MAN clutches knee in sudden gesture of pain. Mug goes flying onto the floor behind him between the guy ropes. Can we really hear someone behind the cement pillars scolding him for his little mistake? Tsch-tsch?
    Lights spins down through blackness behind, scanning down two figures wrapped in trench coats, in homburgs, faces unseen. Listen to the sea. Listen to the gulls calling in the breeze. Listen to the foghorn.
    MAN turns left, to what some might call stage right, peers behind other bollard, smiles into emptiness, finger extended to a point. He has got it! Good one! Walks over behind bollard, picks up bright red Wellington boot (ought to fit him), looks forward at unnameable sea, points at boot hanging from his grip, smiles. Walks back to bucket.
    The world is full of untried potential. Start with the boot.
   
MAN puts boot on his head. No. Puts over arm, fingers in toe, taps off his mouth. Not really. Removes arm and peers curiously into boot. Something in there. He pulls out a sheet of paper. We may see some writing in very large print on it, but indistinct. He throws the paper away, with better things to worry about.
   
Light almost as before between pillars, only this time stopping halfway, keeping figures in the light. A to left behind the MAN, B to the right.
   
A and B are virtually identical. Their unseen faces are presumably blank, although a certain element of domineering might be read into the shadows between their high collars and their hats with the holes seemingly drilled through the top.
   
B turns to A, briefly exposing a silver sliver of skin. A nods. B retreats into the shadows far backstage, returning after a brief interval with a silvery briefcase.
   
MAN meantime tries to chew the top of the boot. Tries at front. No good. Attempts behind. Little luck. At the mid point of the hole at the top. Tough. Looks at boot for some time. Shrugs. Looks forward. Points at boot and smiles.
   
MAN stands up and picks up bucket. Holds boot up ceremonially over bucket, solemnly drops it in. Looks forward. Smiles, pointing at bucket. Looks in, something not quite right. Boot in foot down. Takes boot out, still holding up bucket, puts it back in leg first. Still not right. Grows worried and ultimately frantic. Tries stuffing boot into bucket any which way, ever faster.
   
Meanwhile behind him A turns to B, exposing another metallic-looking glimpse of skin. B nods. A wanders back into the shadows backstage. As he comes back there is a roar of waves and wind. Seagulls cry. A is carrying a jet black briefcase.
   
MAN keeps on fiddling with boot and bucket, finally throws the boot down on the floor with a shrug of the shoulders and an almost too melodramatic sigh. Tries to resume his seat, forgets that he is holding it in his right hand and crashes to the floor with a cry.
   
Dazzling light picks out A and B behind him, leaning against the inside surfaces of the cement beams. Roar of sea. Light fades to former brightness.
   
MAN picks himself up and hits himself ceremonially on forehead. Positions bucket in upside down position just behind him and sits on it. Drums fingers on his knees.
   
Considers the boot on the floor for quite some time.
   
Then looks at paper on floor. Opens it out. The writing is incomprehensible. He ponders over it for about half a minute, then gives up and peers behind bollard stage right.
   
His face lights up at a discovery that he has somehow not made before. Looks forward as if at sea, smiles. Walks off behind bollard, picks up another bright red Wellington boot, obviously meant to go in a pair with the first. Again looks forward, points at boot with free hand, smiles.
   
Walks back to bucket, sits down. Pokes about inside boot with his hand, locates and throws out scrap of paper.
   
Sound of sea and gale. Cries of gulls in crescendo. Foghorn. MAN thrown into shadow, brilliant light over A and B. A and B each take about three steps towards him. Brilliant light fades and they stop as we see the MAN more clearly. He is going through the same old motions all over again; trying to fit the boot onto his head, sliding his hand into it, biting it, and so on.   
   
MAN puts two boots down in front of him, pondering their use to himself. Draws finger along edge of toes of boots. Draws hand back up to chin, then comes the breakthough. Yes!
   
MAN removes slippers from his feet and slides them into the two boots. They fit. He gives one sharp clap of his hands for joy and smiles out at the blackness. Sound of seagulls, maybe a sea wave or two. Brilliant light for a few seconds on him, as on the figure of a saint.
   
Stomps around the two scraps of paper. Light over A and B becomes a little stronger. The MAN has his back turned to them. A opens his briefcase, takes out a large shiny knife which he hands to B to put into the latter’s case. Clasps snap shut without drawing the MAN’s attention.
   
MAN pulls scraps of paper into certain position and looks at them, neck craned to various degrees, looking at the scraps from behind, in front, left and right, every which way. Takes magnifying glass out of pocket, bends down behind to study the scraps. No use.
   
Light strengthens over A and B.
   
A and B move forward until they stand inside the two bollards to left and right, flanking the MAN who still scrambles around trying to glean the meaning out of the scraps of paper. A gives a sharp whistle, attracting the attention of the MAN, who starts suddenly at the sight of this intruder. A nods to B. The MAN looks across, jumps again. B bends down and rearranges the scraps of paper, then indicates to the MAN to step behind them and take a look.
   
The MAN does so. He pores over the papers. As he does so the lights go out behind him, leaving only a patch of light centred on the three figures.
   
Sudden strong beam of flight picks the MAN out as he stares forward with a look of terror - does it change to ecstasy? - on his face. The whole thing is clear to him now.
   
The MAN looks up at A and B. Sound of sea, wind and gulls, stronger now. Sound of thunder over hills far inland.
   
Sea is strong. All is good. No more now.
   
B looks across at A. A nods back. B closes in on the MAN, holding out his hand as a sign of... help given? Fraternity? What then?
   
A moves in, his back turned on the unseen sea. Now only their backs can be seen. It is absolutely imperative that at this stage all the lights must go out.
   
There is a sound of clasps being undone. And the cry of gulls.


________

Taken from ‘This is Where We Came In’ (1992), pages 100-103.



Donough MacNamara
 

Cyril Ó Céirin