Excerpts

Salt-Water Moon, Theatre Newfoundland and Labrador, Adam Brake and Meghan Greeley

Contents:

1. Of The Fields, Lately, 20s Male/50s Male 2. Salt-Water Moon, 17-year-old Female/18-year-old Male 3. 1949, 60s Female/40s Male 4. Jitters, 40s Male/40s Male

OF THE FIELDS, LATELY

20s Male/50s Male From Of The Fields, Lately. Below are the opening and closing sections which frame the play.  David often chose to read these two pieces when he was asked to perform excerpts from his work.  Together they serve as a dramatically powerful meditation on the father-son relationship. BEN: (to the audience) It takes many incidents to build a wall between two men, brick by brick.  Sometimes you're not aware of the building of the wall, and sometimes you are, though not always strong enough or willing enough to kick it down.  It starts very early, as it did with my father and me, very early.  And it becomes a pattern that is hard to break until the wall is made of sound brick and mortar, as strong as any my father ever built.  Time would not level it.  Only death. I don't know if my father ever remembered one such incident.  He never spoke of it to me, but I often thought it was the emotional cornerstone of the wall between us... JACOB: It was summer 1952, and I had just come home from work, later than usual.  It was going on nine in the evening, and as I stepped in the door, Mary said to me, "Ain't tonight the night Ben's team plays for the championship?" BEN: He rushed out the door and down to the schoolyard, the first game he had ever come to, and my mother put his supper in the oven, for later...I hadn't reminded my father of the game.  I was afraid he'd show up and embarrass me.  Twelve years old, and ashamed of my old man.  Ashamed of his dialect, his dirty overalls, his bruised fingers with the fingernails lined with dirt, his teeth yellow as old ivory.  Most of all, his lunchpail, that symbol of the working man.  No, I wanted a doctor for a father.  A lawyer.  At least a fireman.  Not a carpenter.  That wasn't good enough...And at home my mother sat down to darn his socks and watch the oven...I remember stepping up to bat.  The game was tied; it was the last of the ninth, with no one on base.  Then I saw him sitting on the bench along third base.  He grinned and waved, and gestured to the man beside him. JACOB: (at the game) That's my son. BEN: But I pretended not to see him.  I turned to face the pitcher.  And, angry at myself, I swung hard on the first pitch, there was a hollow crack, and the ball shot low over the shortstop's head for a double.  Our next batter bunted and I made third.  He was only a few feet away now, my father. JACOB: Ben!  Ben! Over here!  Ben! BEN: But I still refused to acknowledge him.  Instead, I stared hard at the catcher, pretending concentration.  And when the next pitch bounced between the catcher's legs and into home screen, I slid home to win the game. JACOB: His teammates pounced on him and hefted him up on their shoulders and lugged him around the infield.  A hero. BEN: And there he was, jumping up and down, showing his teeth, excited as hell. JACOB: "Ben!" I shouted my level best.  "Ben!"  And I seen him look my way...and then look off...(Light fades slowly on JACOB.) BEN: And as the crowd broke up and our team stampeded out of the schoolyard, cleats clicking and scraping blue sparks on the sidewalk, I looked back once through the wire fence and saw my father still sitting on the now-empty bench, alone, slumped over a little, staring at the cinders between his feet, just staring...I don't know how long he stayed there, maybe till dark, but I do know he never again came down to see me play.  At home that night he never mentioned the game or being there.  He just went to bed unusually early...   (From the end of the play.  BEN is in a spotlight, facing the audience.  Also in a spotlight, JACOB sits in his armchair, his face hidden by a newspaper.) BEN: Seven weeks later I took another jet home and stood in a winter cemetery, stamping my feet against the cold, feeling somehow he'd set me free with his death.  Keeled over on the job, was how Uncle Wiff put it.  Hammering a nail in a joist... I never did get any closer to my father, though I'd learned to take him seriously as a man, not an obstacle.  But the wall was still there, a little cracked maybe, but still dividing us, still waiting to be toppled. And I never did get to ask him that one simple question that has haunted me all my life, ever since that summer evening when I was twelve and he came down to the schoolyard to watch me play..."How did you like the game?" Slowly JACOB lowers and folds his newspaper as though he has heard the question.  The lights fade slowly to black. (Click below for a link to a conversation between David and Noah Richler. Near the end of the interview, David reads from Of The Fields, Lately.)  

SALT-WATER MOON

17-year-old Female/18-year-old Male From Salt-Water Moon. In this section of the play, MARY SNOW defends her recent engagement to another man to her former beau, JACOB MERCER.  The play takes place on a moonlit August night in 1926 in the Newfoundland outport of Coley's Point. JACOB: You'll be having your own home, will you?  You must want it some bad. MARY: Yes, and in a month's time I'll have it.  No more carrying the breakfast tray to someone else's bedroom.  Shining someone else's silver.  Polishing another's floor like a looking-glass.  I've been in service since I went with that old Mrs. Jessup in St. John's.  The one who locked me in the closet for taking a piece of butter.  Well, once I steps in my own home, I won't be locked up or locked out.  I won't be browbeaten or chastised, or ordered here, ordered there.  And any breakfast tray I carries will be for my own husband and children, and any silver I shines will be from my own service, and any floor that I can see my face in will show only my face looking up and no one else's chin over my shoulder.  My children will not be taken from school before the year's out and sent to the Labrador so's they never can get an education.  They'll go to Bishop's Feild College in St. John's, the same as Jerome, and they won't go near the sea, not even to get their socks wet, not even in the Lake of Dreams!  So goodbye!  (She exits into the house and slams the door.) Slight pause. JACOB: (to himself) By the Christ, Jacob, that's some wonderful girl...(He removes his coat and sets it on the railing.  Smoothing down his hair, he walks to the door and knocks.) Mary! (then) Mary Snow from Hickman's Harbour!  Come out, Mary, and look at the moon!  There's never been a night like this before, and there'll never be another! (then, taking a new tack) Say, Mary, did you hear about the time the King paid a visit to St. John's?  They decided to introduce him to the oldest person in Newfoundland, which was Miss Snook from Heart's Delight.  In honour of the occasion, the King was to present Miss Snook with one hundred and four brand new dollar bills, one for each year of her life.  When it was over, the King took Miss Snook aside.  "Miss Snook," he said, "It must be wonderful to be one hundred and four years old and in such good health.  Tell me," said the King, "Was you ever bedridden?"  "Only twice, me baby  (rhymes with 'abbey')" said Miss Snook.  "Once in a haystack out behind the barn, and once in an old dory." (He listens.  Then he walks down the steps into the yard and faces the house.) Come on out, Mary.  Don't be like that.  Sometimes I gets carried away, that's all.  I'm no different from you in that respect.  You'm prob'bly peeking t'rough the curtains right this very minute, wondering to yourself, What's that fool up to now?  Where do he get the gall to be standing in the yard of the Right Honourable Henry Dawe, Member of Parliament, waking up the half of Coley's Point that isn't at the wake?...And won't Lady Emma be some cross when she finds out the girl she's had in service for four years is causing a disturbance loud enough to start old Bob Foote knocking on his casket?...(peers in the window) And poor Jerome, let's not forget him.  He might be persuaded to call off the wedding, once he discovers that Mary Snow was carrying on with an old flame...(walks farther into the yard) So you decide for yourself, Mary, 'cause I'm not budging.  I'll just make myself at home till Jerome comes driving down the road, innocent as the day he was born.  Won't it give him a lesson in life, to find a wolf in the yard and the lamb cowering behind the curtains? (Click here to view the National Arts Centre Study Guide for Salt-Water Moon.)  

1949

60s Female/40s Male In 1949, we meet three generations of the Mercer family in Toronto.  The play takes place as their homeland -- Newfoundland -- faces a referendum about whether to remain independent, or to become a Canadian province. In this scene, the family matriarch, RACHEL, relates a story about her deceased husband to her son, JACOB. RACHEL:  I promised I'd never tell this to a living soul, Jacob.  So you have to promise to do the same. JACOB: I won't breathe a word of it. RACHEL: Not even to Mary?  Promise? JACOB: All right. RACHEL: (beat) Do you recall that locket your father wore around his neck?  The one he was wearing the day he came back from the War? JACOB: I only saw it once or twice.  A plain silver locket, wasn't it? RACHEL: Yes, and he wore it inside his shirt form the day he got it overseas until the day he died.  Did you ever wonder what was in it? JACOB: I wondered, yes.  He wasn't the sort of man to wear a locket around his neck. RACHEL: No more than he was the sort you asked questions of.  At first I wanted to know what was inside, but I didn't dare ask.  I figured if he wanted me to know he'd tell me in his own time. JACOB: Did he? RACHEL: No, not a word.  And later on there was no need to ask, because I knowed.  I could scarcely sleep some nights, knowing he was lying next to me with another woman's picture in that locket. JACOB: (incredulous) Another woman?  Father?... RACHEL:  I even knowed the woman's name.  It was Betty Driscoll, a Red Cross nurse in England. JACOB: You mean to tell me he was in love with another woman, and you knowed about it all these years? RACHEL: Just listen. JACOB: All right.  But how'd you come to know her name? RACHEL: That was the easy part.  I went over all the letters he'd sent me that time he was wounded at the Somme.  They'd shipped him back to England, remember, to the hospital there...In the first of those letters he mentioned how kind the nurses was, one in particular, and how she was even writing the letter for him.  That's when I saw again the name that would prey upon my mind the rest of my married life: Betty Driscoll...Yes, it was all there in those letters, as plain as the nose on my face, only I'd never picked up on it before. JACOB: Look, you sure you wants to tell me this? RACHEL: There was even a part of me that could understand.  I wasn't fool enough to expect he'd never look at another woman, being away like that all those years.  I just never expected him to carry her picture home and wear it so brazenly around his neck.  That's what angered me the most.  That's what I couldn't forgive...And as the years went by, I'd imagine what she looked like, this Nursing Sister, this Betty Driscoll.  Sometimes she'd be small and slight and soft-spoken; other times she'd be coarse.  But no odds how she looked, she'd always be dressed in that starched white skirt with its sky-blue blouse and black shoes...And with time I hardened my heart to him, little by little, out of the hurt I was feeling...One summer's night the smell of honeysuckle woke me, and I saw him at the open window, sitting in the blue light of the moon.  I wanted so bad to cross that distance between the bed and the window, but there was too much pride in me, and the distance was too great...And then the cancer struck him, and he bore that, too, in the only way he could, in silence.  And just before the end, he turned his face toward me, working his eyes as though he was trying to tell me somet'ing.  Only now he didn't have the strength to speak, not even if he wanted to... JACOB: What do you suppose he was trying to say? RACHEL: Oh, I understood, all right, he was searching my face to see if I forgave him. JACOB: And did you?  Forgive him? RACHEL: No, not even then.  Not so long as he was wearing that silver locket... JACOB: Christ! RACHEL: When he died, I washed and dressed him in his Sunday suit, remember, and we waked him in the parlour. JACOB: I remembers. RACHEL: On the last night I went up to the bedroom and took down those letters from the top of the closet.  I read each one again that Betty Driscoll had scribbled in her neat little hand from that hospital room in England.  And then I burnt them.  I marched downstairs and flung them in the stove.  Then I went to the casket and gazed down at Esau.  I raised the flat of my hand to strike him...I didn't, though.  Instead I took the locket off his neck and opened it, and in the light of the lamp I studied the face of the young woman inside... JACOB: Was she at all the way you imagined? RACHEL: Not in the least.  It wasn't even a pretty face in particular.  And the camera had caught her squinting into the sun, which made her look far too serious.  A little grim, even...But I could still recall the day he'd snapped that picture, Esau, and how the wind had lifted the hem of my skirt in the road outside the house... JACOB: (beat) It was you?... RACHEL: (shaken) Yes, it was my picture all those years.  And suddenly I realized: those letters...his silences...even the look in his eyes at the end...all of it misunderstood.  For nineteen years I'd walked around with that woman's face in amber, holding it up to the light of my own suspicions.  The only real t'ing, as it turned out, was the shame I felt at that moment, and the remorse I've lived with ever since... Silence. (Click here to hear a wonderful Newfoundland band, The Once, sing their version of "By The Glow Of The Kerosene Light.")  

JITTERS

40s Male/40s Male In this scene from Jitters, David's comic masterpiece about the theatre, actors have just finished rehearsing a scene from a new Canadian drama.  Actor PHIL Mastorakis is talking to director GEORGE Ellsworth about his inability to remember his lines.  ROBERT Ross, the playwright, is on the set overhearing their conversation.  The voice of NICK, the stage manager, comes over the intercom. GEORGE: You don't need a prompter.  That's all in your head.  You just got off book this morning.  The other actors have been off book for two weeks. PHIL: Sure, rub it in. GEORGE: I'm not.  I'm just saying that's why you're a little unsure of the lines still.  We've got four previews.  By the time we open you'll be word perfect. PHIL: What if I dry? GEORGE: Why should you? PHIL: I always dry. GEORGE: That doesn't mean you will this time.  Stop thinking that way. PHIL: George, I have long speeches in this play.  Words coming out my ears.  If I stumble, I could skip ten pages and not know it.  You want ten minutes off the running time?  I could easily slash twenty minutes off and still take all my beats and pauses. ROBERT sits on the sofa and puts his face in his hands. GEORGE: Phil, you worry too much.  You expect to dry, so you dry.  Forget about the lines.  I don't care if you get it word perfect.  Neither does Robert.  Isn't that so, Robert? ROBERT nods, his face in his hands. PHIL: George, take part of my salary.  Pay some kid to stand in the wings with a book.  I'll buy the flashlight.  Only don't take away my safety net.  Look at me.  Knots in my stomach, it's only a preview.  Think how I'll be on opening night.  My throat tightens.  My heart, George.  My heart hammers so loud in my ears I sometimes miss my first cue. GEORGE: Calm down. PHIL: It's so bad I once thought of taking lip-reading. GEORGE: You're working yourself into a stew. PHIL: I know.  And to look at me you'd think I had nerves of steel, right?  "Phil," they say, "Phil, you're so relaxed on stage."  Oh, if they only knew, George.  If they only knew inside I'm twenty different flavours of Jello and a pulse rate of one hundred and forty. NICK (over the PA) George, if Phil has recovered sufficiently, I would like to get this show on the road.  All actors should be in position.  I would like the stage cleared. GEORGE: Sorry, Phil.  We'll have to do this another time.  Just don't underestimate yourself.  You're a pro. He takes his seat on the aisle. PHIL: You bet your life I'm a pro.  You think a novice like Tom would stand here pleading?  Begging and grovelling? He hasn't had the experience.  I know what it's like to be terrified: I'm a seasoned veteran.  So bear that in mind when I implore you not to make me face the audience cold.  Would you ask a man afraid of heights to jump out of a plane without a parachute?  God bless you, but there's a limit, George.  A limit to what a man can do for Art.  I'm only human.  And don't hand me that crap you can't afford it.  If you can afford to buy me shoes, you can afford a prompter. NICK: (over the PA) For the last time, can we please clear the stage?  We'll be starting in one minute.  That's sixty seconds. Lights begin to dim and music starts. PHIL: I see I'm wasting my breath.  Okay, have it your way, old buddy.  He starts to exit. Just don't say I never warned you.  I love this play, and if I botch it, I'll never forgive you. He exits backstage... (Click here to read the Toronto Star review of Soulpepper's 2010 production of Jitters, where Robert Crew calls the script "a comedic masterpiece.")  

§ 2 Responses to Excerpts"

  • ron abrams says:

    just great as I always remembered it to e

  • ron abrams says:

    it was really beautiful, I was the first person in the world to ever read what became the opening address in OF THE FIELDS LATELEY it was a piece from a novel that David wrote called A COMPANY OF STRANGERS, David and I were very close friends for many years Yours Truly, Ron Abrams

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *