Sangam Playhouse






Distant Music

A Play by


90 minutes without intermission
An excerpt of the first 10 pages of the play. Please contact the author (jamesmclindon@yahoo.com) for rights to perform, publish or use this text in any form.




Scene One

 

The lights come up on the interior of the Poulnabrone Pub in Cambridge, Massachusetts. DEV HART, the bartender, stands behind the bar spraying it with a cleaner and wiping it down. He is in his late twenties, with an accent from the west of Ireland. Good humor is customary with him, but it is also occasionally broken by abrupt flashes of anger. As he works, he sings the last two verses of the mournful ballad “Ta Me ‘Mo Shui“ (“I Am Awake”) with a gloomy face, switching from English to faulty Irish.

DEV

Wise men proclaim that lovesickness leaves one unwell,

I did not believe till my poor heart came under its spell.

Aicid ro-ghear faraor nar sheachnaigh me I,

Chuir si arraing ’s …

Chuir si arraing ’s …

Chuir si …

 

Ah, feck my Irish, then!

 

Suddenly, bells jingle off, the sort that tells a shopkeeper that someone has entered his store.

 

CONNOR

(Off)

Dev?

 

DEV

I’m cleaning the back room.

 

CONNOR CURTIN ENTERS through the portal to the main room of the pub. He is alone, save for the considerable amount of snow that accompanies him. CONNOR, a law professor, is no longer young, but not yet old. His manner often tends toward the cynical and sarcastic, a veneer which only very occasionally peels away enough to reveal the longing beneath. While his words are often despondent, he rarely is. He does not have a Boston accent. He dusts the snow from his shoulders and begins to peel off his coat and gloves, all the while looking around the room, as if for someone. DEV’s mood lifts immediately.

 

CONNOR

God, it’s nasty out there.

 

DEV

Snow is it, Professor?

 

CONNOR

No, Dev, they’re having a tickertape parade on Mass. Ave.

 

DEV

Feck off with ya. You’ve no call to be taking the piss out of a struggling young immigrant.

 

DEV begins to draw a pint of Murphy’s stout. CONNOR steps back through the portal to check the front room for patrons.

 

CONNOR

Has anyone been in?

 

DEV

Do ya see anyone? It’s the Tuesday after New Year’s Eve. With a foot of snow on the ground and two more to come, you’re lucky I’m here. Who were you expecting, the Three Wise Men?

 

CONNOR

Three Wise Men?

 

DEV

Today’s the Feast of the Epiphany, ya feckin’ pagan. You’re meeting someone, then?

 

CONNOR

Nope.

 

DEV

Liar. (Pouring a pint of stout) Murphy’s then?

 

CONNOR

Did your brother call about the chipper?

 

DEV

No, he didn’t. Murphy’s then?

 

CONNOR

Well, call him. Why are you pretending that this isn’t a big deal—?

 

DEV

He’ll call when he knows. Murphy’s then!?

 

CONNOR

No, I’m back to Guinness.

 

DEV stops, looking unhappily at the Murphy’s tap that he has been pulling. After a moment, he resumes.

 

DEV

Right, Murphy’s it is.

 

CONNOR

I said I wanted Guinness.

 

DEV

Well, we all want something we’re not going to get. I can’t be throwing this out.

 

CONNOR

Fine, but I won’t drink it.

 

DEV

You’re not the man can waste good stout. (Tearing off a scratch lottery ticket) I’ll bet you a lottery ticket you’ll drink it.

 

CONNOR

You’re on.

 

DEV thumps the ticket down on the bar in front of CONNOR and places the two-thirds full pint on a bar towel by the tap. DEV and CONNOR both watch the thrashing tan brew in his pint glass slowly resolve itself into a black body and a white head. DEV smiles.

 

DEV

Ah, here’s a miracle for you.

 

DEV lifts the pint in both hands over his head like a chalice, looking up at it.

 

DEV

If God were just a bit more theatrical, this is what transubstantiation would look like. There’s a very thin line between religion and stout, d’ja know that?

 

CONNOR

(Pause)

No.

 

DEV

God’s truth, indeed. Something quite foreign to a pathetic, vacillating man such as yourself.

 

CONNOR

I’m not pathetic and vacillating.

 

DEV

You are. For a few weeks it’s Guinness. Then it’s Murphy’s. Then it’s Guinness again, then Murphy’s, then Guinness. That’s moral weakness. A regular Janus you are, when it comes to stout.

 

CONNOR

Janus?

 

DEV

Janus. I’ve been brushing up on my gods. (Pause) The Harvard Classics Department comes in of a Tuesday. I overhear the odd bit.

 

CONNOR

So, I change stouts occasionally.

 

DEV

Variety’s fine for some matters. But NOT for the true and timeless things in life . . . (caressing a Manchester United scarf hanging behind the bar) like your football club, now.

 

CONNOR

Oh, really? Manchester United is forever?

 

DEV

It is indeed. Forever, it is.

 

CONNOR

Then how come you were a Liverpool fan “forever” when I met you ten years ago?

 

DEV

Brilliant young men of ardent heart such as myself often undergo the most radical changes in belief. Read your Joyce, now, you illiterate shite. But in a middle-aged man like you, well into his fifth decade, such lack of conviction is a bit . . . well, pathetic! (Pause) Oh, and where’s the law professor’s well-reasoned retort?

 

CONNOR

(Giving him the finger)

Right there.

 

DEV

At least I’m capable of deep, if transitory, emotional attachments.

 

CONNOR

And I’m not?

 

DEV

Well, isn’t that the mystery of ya? You’re going to drink this stout now.

 

CONNOR

You can’t force a beer down a man’s throat.

 

DEV

In fact, ya can! These frat lads from MIT taught me. Two of yiz hold the pledge down while the third puts a funnel in his mouth and—

 

CONNOR

Okay, Dev, look. I am supposed to meet someone here tonight and, and I’d like—

 

DEV

I knew it! The second miracle of the evening. Your first date since Rachel dropped you–

 

CONNOR

Rachel did not— It was a mutual agreement. And who said it was a woman? (Off DEV’s dubious stare) Okay, so it’s a woman. I’d like a little space.

 

DEV

Would you? So, she’s beautiful, then?

 

CONNOR

Dev—

 

DEV

Ah, you’re in love with her already now, aren’t ya!?

 

CONNOR

Says who?

 

DEV

Says your face. Like a farm boy spying the village beauty at his first crossroads dance and . . . waaaait now. This is the one, isn’t it?

 

CONNOR

Which one what?

 

DEV

The one who broke your heart.

 

CONNOR

My heart’s not broken—

 

DEV

Ah yeah, bollix that. I figured that out years ago.

 

CONNOR

Believe what you want, Dev. But just remember, in America, discretion is the hallmark of good barkeeping.

 

DEV

So stay out of the Irish pubs, then. And aren’t you wrong?

 

CONNOR

How?

 

DEV

What about your Cheers bar? Wanting everyone to know your name, ya pack of insecure gobshites. In Sligo, the whole village knows your name, your business and your family’s business back to Famine times, and don’t you wish to God they didn’t? (Pause) Ahhhh. There’s nothing better than a good argument.

 

CONNOR

There’s lots that’s better.

 

DEV

And there’s nothing easier. For every argument, there’s a counter-argument. Your ideal bar versus the Cheers bar. Matter versus Anti-matter. Christ versus Anti-Christ . . . .

 

CONNOR

Logic versus illogic.

 

DEV

Ah, now, I’m serious here.

 

CONNOR

Actually, you’re right. You’ve recapitulated legal realism.

 

DEV

Well . . . of course I have. You can’t stay an eejit long tending bar in Cambridge now.

 

CONNOR

The law provides no answers, only the arguments. Any smart judge can take the law and make it say “A” or “not A.” There is no great truth. And that’s the only great truth you learn your first year of law school.

DEV

Or your first year of bartending. What ever made you go to law school, then?

 

CONNOR

I don’t know.

 

DEV

Liar.

 

CONNOR

Well, back then, I thought they did have the truth. (Embarrassed) And, you know, I was a kid . . ., I was going to change the world with it.

 

DEV

Hah! Our Connor, dirty his hands with the world? Listen, lad, the truth’s got nothing to do with changing the world.

 

CONNOR

Seemed like a good place to start.

 

DEV

Bollix that! Men change the world with lies. Take your Joe McCarthy now.

 

CONNOR

He only changed the fifties. The courts were where you could get stuff done back when I started law school. You could take a problem like … like housing discrimination, and make a case against a landlord, and a judge would have to — have to — put a stop to it.

 

DEV

So why aren’t you out there putting a stop to discrimination now?

 

CONNOR

Because Rehnquist, because Scalia, because Thomas. They appointed all these conservatives judges, and we’d bring them the same case and guess what? Turns out, whatever was going on wasn’t discrimination after all. And that, Dev, is when I really figured out what the law is.

 

DEV

What?

 

CONNOR

It’s only the Charlie McCarthy, the ventriloquist’s dummy. It’s the judge who’s Edgar Bergen. I had thought it was the other way around.

 

DEV

If you really thought it was all just a sham, you should’ve quit your first year.

CONNOR

Well, there’s knowing and there’s … accepting. I really wanted to still believe. And I was twenty grand in the hole.

 

DEV

But how can you teach it?

 

CONNOR

Oh, teaching the dance steps is easy; selling the dance to an audience, that’s the hard part.

 

DEV studies CONNOR for a moment or two.

 

DEV

You’re going to turn down that judgeship. Aren’t ya!? They’re handing you a chance to change this bloody world … and you’re gonna say, no thanks, I’d rather stay buried alive in my law school.

 

CONNOR

Oh, you’re going to lecture me about turning down opportunities—

 

DEV

A federal judgeship just a step below the Supreme Court is a bit more glorious than a Sligo fish and chip shop!

 

CONNOR’s response is interrupted by the bells announcing another patron.

 

MAEVE

(Off)

Hello?

 

CONNOR

Maeve. Back here.

 

A snow-covered MAEVE MOORE ENTERS through the portal. She is around CONNOR’s age and carries a small valise. Like Connor, she does not have a Boston accent.

 

MAEVE

Connor, you made it. I almost didn’t come.

 

CONNOR

Well, I said I’d be here.

 

MAEVE begins peeling off the layers, knocking off the snow and hanging her things on hooks. DEV watches MAEVE’s unveiling with great anticipation and little discretion. She is rather plainly dressed, her only jewelry a small crucifix on a chain around her neck. She is generally upbeat, humorous and playful, but her manner can change from acerbic to sweet to serious in a moment. When necessary, she displays a surprisingly hard edge.

 

MAEVE

Thanks for coming. Don’t you love Nor’easters!?

 

CONNOR

No.

 

DEV

Yes!

 

MAEVE

I heard it’s stalled off the Cape. It’s going to snow right on through tomorrow night.

 

CONNOR

Super. With any luck, classes will be canceled tomorrow.

 

DEV

(Quietly to CONNOR)

Introduce me.

 

CONNOR

No.

 

DEV

Fine, then. Good evening, Miss. My name is Dev. I’ll be your bartender tonight.

 

MAEVE

Maeve. Nice to meet you.

 

MAEVE starts to sit on a stool.

 

DEV

Now, don’t settle in here, we’ve got to move back to the main room.

 

CONNOR

Why?

 

DEV

What if another customer comes in?

 

MAEVE

In this weather?

 

CONNOR

You’d hear the bell.

 

DEV

Well, I’d have to leave you.

 

CONNOR

Somehow, we’d soldier on.

 

DEV

Fine, I’m staying then.

 

CONNOR

What about your customers?

 

DEV

Feck ‘em, I’ll hear the bell. Now, what’ll it be?

 

CONNOR

You want a Guinness?

 

MAEVE

Sure, anything’s fine.

 

CONNOR

Dev, a Guinness.

 

DEV

(Eyeing MAEVE)

Yes, sir, you’ll get what you want here.

 

CONNOR slides his untouched pint over to her.

 

CONNOR

Have this one.

 

MAEVE

Oh. Thanks.

 

MAEVE takes a sip. CONNOR grabs the scratch ticket, pulls out a coin and begins rubbing the ticket. DEV finishes pouring the first two-thirds of the pint of Guinness and places it on the bar next to the tap.

 

DEV

Now, Miss, you know we’ve got to let this settle –

 

DEV notices that MAEVE is sipping CONNOR’s pint of Murphy’s.

 

DEV

What’re ya . . . ! Put that down!!






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