horton foote’s the orphan’s home cycle

 


While in New York I saw Part One of Horton Foote’s The Orphans Home Cycle.
All nine plays are set in the fictitious town of Harrison, Texas, which is based on Footre’s hometown of Wharton, Texas.

 

Spanning the lives of three families over three decades, the plays are based in part on the childhood of Foote’s father and the courtship and marriage of his parents. As a boy in the 1920s, Foote (March 14, 1916 – March 4, 2009) routinely eavesdropped on the adults in his small Texas town. The cycle charts the life of Horace Robedaux from the time he is a young boy whose father has died to when his father-in-law dies and he becomes the family patriarch.

 

In a recent review, critic Brendan Lemon wrote that:

 

All the bouquets being bestowed on Horton Foote’s trilogy The Orphans’ Home Cycle, off-Broadway at the Signature, compel me to try to defend it from the hype. The three evenings, each consisting of three one acts, are not “event theatre”, if that phrase means large-scale projects distinguished by inflated claims rather than by artistic achievements. There are longueurs here, but they are of the littlenesses of life, not of inept stagecraft.

 

Daily existence abounds, while death is more pressing than in the finale of Hamlet. These stories covering life in a fictional village in East Texas called Harrison from 1902 to 1928 offer a true nature’s bounty – and bounty is a key concept for Foote, who in a long career (he died this year at 92) wrote not only dozens of plays but also screenplays for The Trip to Bountiful and To Kill A Mockingbird.

 

Orphans’ ache of prosaic occurrence may suggest Our Town, and the family squabbling may conjure up Foote’s friend Tennessee Williams without the heightened lyricism, but Foote’s method is his own. A co-production with Hartford Stage, the first evening of Orphans’ introduces us to the two families, the Robedauxs and the Thorntons, who stand stage-centre in the cycle.

 

Foote, generally known for his Academy Award-winning screenplays for the 1962 film To Kill a Mockingbird and the 1983 film Tender Mercies, and his Academy Award nomination for writing The Trip to Bountiful. He won a 1995 Pulitzer Prize for his play The Young Man From Atlanta. But his legacy must surely be The Orphans Home Cycle, which he finished shortly before his death. The cycle breaks down as follows:

 

Part One, The Story of a Childhood

Roots in a Parched Ground

Convicts

Lily Dale

 

Part Two, The Story of a Marriage

The Widow Claire

Courtship

Valentine’s Day

 

Part Three, The Story of a Family

1918

Cousins

The Death of Papa

 

Here’s Foote’s forward to the cycle’s opening play, Roots in a Parched Ground:

 

THE ACTUAL WRITING of these plays began after my mother’s death in 1974. My father had died the year before in the very room and on the bed my brothers had been born in. After my mother’s death, I was alone in our house in Wharton, Texas for a week, sorting letters and personal papers, making decisions about what to do with the accumulations of fifty-nine years of life in that house.

 

After I returned to my then home in the New Hampshire woods, I began making notes for these plays. I don’t remember if at the time I thought there would eventually be nine plays, but I am sure that the writing of these first notes was prompted by my thinking over my parents’ lives and the world of the town that had surrounded them from birth to death. Some two years later I had finished first drafts of eight of the plays: Roots in a Parched Ground, Convicts, Lily Dale, Courtship, Valentine’s Day, 1918, Cousins and The Death of Papa. The Widow Claire , the last to be written, was finished some time later.

 

On a trip to New York, I bought all the records of Charles Ives I could find, playing his music over and over while resting from my work on the plays. It was a time of fuel shortages and exorbitantly high fuel prices, and my family and I kept warm in the New Hampshire winter by burning wood in the fireplaces and stoves. In the spring and summer I would write in a screen house overlooking the woods and a large stone wall. My surroundings couldn’t have been more different from the place and time in Texas I was writing about.

 

I don’t remember now, either, the sequence in which I wrote the plays, but I believe 1918 was the first completed, although an earlier version of Roots in a Parched Ground had been written years before and done on the Du Pont Play of the Month television series, long before I thought of the possibility of there being nine plays or could have imagined the changes that would lead to my living and working in New Hampshire.

 

Change, however, was an early acquaintance in my life. My grandfather, who seemed impervious to all mortal ends, died when I was nine, and the reverberations and changes from that death continued for many years. It was soon after that I was to see a quiet, serene street (in front of my grandparents’ house) begin its slow but steady descent into a metaphor for all the ugly, trashy highways that scar a great deal of small-town America. And these plays, I feel, are about change, unexpected, unasked for, unwanted, but to be faced and dealt with or else we sink into despair or a hopeless longing for a life that is gone.

My first memory was of stories about the past—a past that, according to the storytellers, was superior in every way to the life then being lived. It didn’t take me long, however, to understand that the present was all we had, for the past was gone and nothing could be done about it.

 

I learned, too, how unreliable memory can be, for when members of my family would recount a story from their collective past, I would early on marvel how subtly it would change from storyteller to storyteller.

 

The time of the plays is a harsh time. They begin in 1902, a time of far-reaching social and economic change in Texas. The aftermath of Reconstruction and its passions had brought about a white man’s union to prevent blacks from voting in local and state elections. But in spite of political and social acts to hold onto the past, a way of life was over, and the practical, the pragmatic were scrambling to form a new economic order. Black men and women were alive who knew the agony of slavery, and white men and women were alive who had owned them. I remember the first time slavery had a concrete face for me. I was on a fourteen-mile hike to complete some phase of becoming a Boy Scout. I stopped in a country store for a bottle of soda water and on the gallery of the store was an elderly black man. As I drank my soda water we got to talking and he asked me my name, and when I told him he said he had been a slave on my great-great-grandfather’s plantation. I have never forgotten the impact that made on me. Slavery up until then was merely an abstract statistic that I’d heard older people talking about. "Our family had one hundred sixty slaves, one hundred twenty …" or whatever, but as I looked into that man’s tired, sorrowing face, I was shocked to realize that this abstraction spoken of so lightly ("we were good to them," "we never mistreated them") was a living, suffering human being. The tales of the past had a new reality for me after that.

 

And so with the 1918 influenza epidemic, which causes such havoc in the play 1918 . I was raised on stories of the terror of the flu, what it did to my family and to the families of the town, but it seemed only a local phenomenonto me until I read Katherine Anne Porter’s "Pale Horse, Pale Rider" and I began to understand how far-reaching it was. Since the productions of 1918 , 1 have heard from many people telling me how it affected their lives or the lives of their families.

 

All the plays are based on family stories—stories often of dislocation, sibling rivalries, delopements, family estrangements, family reconciliations, and all the minutiae that make family life at once so interesting and yet at times so burdening, causing a reaction described by Katherine Anne Porter in "Old Mortality": Her mind closed stubbornly against remembering, not the past, but the legends of the past, other people’s memory of the past, at which she had spent her life peering in wonder like a child at a magic lantern show. Oh, but there is my own life to come yet, she thought, my own life now and beyond. I don’t want any promises, I won’t have false hopes, I won’t be romantic about myself, I can’t live in this world any longer, she told herself listening to the voices back of her. Let them tell their stories to each other. Let them go on exploring how things happened. I don’t care. At least I can know the truth about what happened to me, she assured herself, silently making a promise to herself in her hopefulness, in her ignorance.

 

But many of us do care, of course, and we do continue to remember, and we give to our children and their children our versions of what has gone before, remembering always how unreliable a thing memory is and how our versions of what has gone before can only be what we have come to perceive the past and its people and stories to be. To quote Miss Porter again: By the time the writer has reached the end of a story, he has lived it at least three times—first, in a series of actual events that, directly or indirectly, have continued to set up the condition in his mind and senses that causes him to write the story; second, in memory; and third, on re-creation of this chaotic stuff.

 

I have worked on the plays for about ten years, from the first drafts to the forms found here, during various readings, staged readings, andtheater productions, in and out of New York. But essentially the plays have remained the same, some with no revisions whatsoever.

 

Here, then, are the first four of the plays, their stories and characters, I hope, true to their place and time—true at least to my memory of what I was told or have seen.

 

—Horton Foote

March 1988
 

Roots in a Parched Ground may be downloaded here.

 

 

beckett and the old questions

(from a 2009 production of Endgame at The American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge, MA)

Hamm:                    Do you remember when you came here?

 

Clov:                      No, Too small, you told me.

 

Hamm:                    Do you remember your father.

 

Clov (wearily):         Same answer.

 

                             You’ve asked me these questions millions of times.

 

Hamm:                    I love the old questions

 

(With fervour.)         All the old questions, the old answers, 
                             there’s nothing like them!

 

(Pause.)                  It was I was a father to you.

 

Clov:                      Yes.

 

(He looks at Hamm fixedly):

 

         This was that for me.

 

— Samuel Beckett, Endgame. Grove Press, 1958, p. 38

from cormac mccarthy’s play-as-novel, the sunset limited

Cormac McCarthy

The Sunset Limited

 

This is a room in a tenement building in a black ghetto in New York City. There is a kitchen with a stove and a large refrigerator. A door to the outer hallway and another presumably to a bedroom. The hallway door is fitted with a bizarre collection of locks and bars. There is a cheap Formica table in the room and two chrome and plastic chairs. There is a drawer in the table. On the table is a Bible and a newspaper. A pair of glasses. A pad and pencil. A large black man is sitting in one chair (stage right) and in the other a middle aged white man dressed in running pants and athletic shoes. He wears a T shirt and the jacket, which matches the pants, hangs on the chair behind him.

 

 

BLACK. So what am I supposed to do with you, Professor?

WHITE. Why are you supposed to do anything?

BLACK. I done told you. This ain’t none of my doin. I left out of here this mornin to go to work you wasn’t no part of my plans at all. But here you is.


WHITE. It doesn’t mean anything. Everything that happens doesn’t mean something else.


BLACK. Mm hm. It don’t.


WHITE. No. It doesn’t.


BLACK. What’s it mean then?


WHITE. It doesn’t mean anything. You run into people and maybe some of them are in trouble or whatever but it doesn’t mean that you’re responsible for them.


BLACK. Mm hm.


WHITE. Anyway, people who are always looking out for perfect strangers are very often people who won’t look out for the ones they’re supposed to look out for. In my opinion. If you’re just doing what you’re supposed to then you don’t get to be a hero.


BLACK. And that would be me.


WHITE. I don’t know. Would it?


BLACK. Well, I can see how they might be some truth in that. But in this particular case I might say I sure didn’t know what sort of person I was supposed to be on the lookout for or what I was supposed to do when I found him. In this particular case they wasn’t but one thing to go by.


WHITE. And that was?


BLACK. That was that there he is standin there. And I can look at him and I can say: Well, he don’t look like my brother. But there he is. Maybe I better look again.


WHITE. And that’s what you did.


BLACK. Well, you was kindly hard to ignore. I got to say that your approach was pretty direct.


WHITE. I didn’t approach you. I didn’t even see you.


BLACK. Mm hm.


WHITE. I should go. I’m beginning to get on your nerves.


BLACK. No you ain’t. Don’t pay no attention to me. You seem like a sweet man, Professor. I reckon what I don’t understand is how come you to get yourself in such a fix.


WHITE. Yeah.


BLACK. Are you okay? Did you sleep last night?


WHITE. No.


BLACK. When did you decide that today was the day? Was they somethin special about it?


WHITE. No. Well. Today is my birthday. But I certainly don’t regard that as special.


BLACK. Well happy birthday, Professor.


WHITE. Thank you.


BLACK. So you seen your birthday was comin up and that seemed like the right day.


WHITE. Who knows? Maybe birthdays are dangerous. Like Christmas. Ornaments hanging from the trees, wreaths from the doors, and bodies from the steam pipes all over
America.


BLACK. Mm. Don’t say much for Christmas, does it?


WHITE. Christmas is not what it used to be.


BLACK. I believe that to be a true statement. I surely do.


WHITE. I’ve got to go. (He gets up and takes his jacket off the back of the chair and lifts it over his shoulders and then puts his arms in the sleeves rather than putting his arms in first one at a time.)


BLACK. You always put your coat on like that?


WHITE. What’s wrong with the way I put my coat on?


BLACK. I didn’t say they was nothin wrong with it. I just wondered if that was your regular method.


WHITE. I don’t have a regular method. I just put it on.


BLACK. Mm hm.


WHITE. It’s what, effeminate?


BLACK. Mm.


WHITE. What?


BLACK. Nothin. I’m just settin here studyin the ways of professors.


WHITE. Yeah. Well, I’ve got to go. (The black gets up.)


BLACK. Well. Let me get my coat.


WHITE. Your coat?


BLACK. Yeah.


WHITE. Where are you going?


BLACK. Goin with you.


WHITE. What do you mean? Going with me where?


BLACK. Goin with you wherever you goin.


WHITE. No you’re not.


BLACK. Yeah I am.


WHITE. I’m going home.


BLACK. All right.


WHITE. All right? You’re not going home with me.


BLACK. Sure I am. Let me get my coat.


WHITE. You can’t go home with me.


BLACK. Why not?


WHITE. You can’t.


BLACK. What. You can go home with me but I can’t go home with you?


WHITE. No. I mean no, that’s not it. I just need to go home.


BLACK. You live in a apartment?


WHITE. Yes.


BLACK. What. They don’t let black folks in there?


WHITE. No. I mean of course they do. Look. No more jokes. I’ve got to go. I’m very tired.


BLACK. Well I just hope we don’t run into no hassle about you gettin me in there.


WHITE. You’re serious.


BLACK. Oh I think you know I’m serious.


WHITE. You can’t be serious.


BLACK. I’m as serious as a heart attack.


WHITE. Why are you doing this?


BLACK. Me? I ain’t got no choice in the matter.


WHITE. Of course you have a choice.


BLACK. No I ain’t.


WHITE. Who appointed you my guardian angel?


BLACK. Let me get my coat.


WHITE. Answer the question.


BLACK. You know who appointed me. I didn’t ask for you to leap into my arms down in the subway this mornin.


WHITE. I didn’t leap into your arms.


BLACK. You didn’t?


WHITE. No. I didn’t.


BLACK. Well how did you get there then? (The professor stands with his head lowered. He looks at the chair and then turns and goes and sits down in it.) What. Now we ain’t gain?


WHITE. Do you really think that Jesus is in this room?


BLACK. No. I don’t think he’s in this room.


WHITE. You don’t?


BLACK. I know he’s in this room. (The professor folds his hands at the table and lowers his head. The black pulls out the other chair and sits again.) It’s the way you put it, Professor. Be like me askin you do you think you got your coat on. You see what I’m sayin?


WHITE. It’s not the same thing. It’s a matter of agreement. If you and I say that I have my coat on and Cecil says that I’m naked and I have green skin and a tail then we might want to think about where we should put Cecil so that he won’t hurt himself

 

BLACK. Who’s Cecil?


WHITE. He’s not anybody. He’s just a hypothetical … There’s not any Cecil. He’s just a person I made up to illustrate a point.


BLACK. Made up.


WHITE. Yes.


BLACK. Mm.


WHITE. We’re not going to get into this again are we? It’s not the same thing. The fact that I made Cecil up.


BLACK. But you did make him up.


WHITE. Yes.


BLACK. And his view of things don’t count.


WHITE. No. That’s why I made him up. I could have changed it around. I could have made you the one that didn’t think I was wearing a coat.


BLACK. And was green and all that shit you said.


WHITE. Yes.


BLACK. But you didn’t.


WHITE. No.


BLACK. You loaded it off on Cecil.


WHITE. Yes.


BLACK. But Cecil can’t defend hisself cause the fact that he ain’t in agreement with everybody else makes his word no good. I mean aside from the fact that you made him up and he’s green and everthing.


WHITE. He’s not the one who’s green. I am. Where is this going?


BLACK. I’m just tryin to find out about Cecil.


WHITE. I don’t think so. Can you see Jesus?


BLACK. No. I can’t see him.


WHITE. But you talk to him.


BLACK. I don’t miss a day.


WHITE. And he talks to you.


BLACK. He has talked to me. Yes.


WHITE. Do you hear him? Like out loud?


BLACK. Not out loud. I don’t hear a voice. Idon’t hear my own, for that matter. But I have heard him.


WHITE. Well why couldn’t Jesus just be in your head?


BLACK. He is in my head.


WHITE. Well I don’t understand what it is that you’re trying to tell me.


BLACK. I know you don’t, honey. Look. The first thing you got to understand is that I ain’t got a original thought in my head. If it ain’t got the lingerin scent of divinity to it then I ain’t interested.


WHITE. The lingering scent of divinity.


BLACK. Yeah. You like that?


WHITE. It’s not bad.


BLACK. I heard it on the radio. Black preacher. But the point is I done tried it the other way. And I don’t mean chippied, neither. Runnin blindfold through the woods with the bit tween your teeth. Oh man. Didn’t I try it though. If you can find a soul that give it a better shot than me I’d like to meet him. I surely would. And what do you reckon it got me?


WHITE. I don’t know. What did it get you?


BLACK. Death in life. That’s what it got me.


WHITE. Death in life.


BLACK. Yeah. Walkin around death. Too dead to even know enough to lay down.


WHITE. I see.


BLACK. I don’t think so. But let me ask you this question.


WHITE. All right.


BLACK. Have you ever read this book?


WHITE. I’ve read parts of it. I’ve read in it


 
BLACK. Have you ever read it?


WHITE. I read the Book of Job.


BLACK. Have. You. Ever. Read. It.


WHITE. No.


BLACK. But you is read a lot of books.


WHITE. Yes.


BLACK. How many would you say you read?


WHITE. I’ve no idea.


BLACK. Ball park.


WHITE. I don’t know. Two a week maybe. A hundred a year. For close to forty years. (The black takes up his pencil and licks it and falls to squinting at his pad, adding numbers laboriously, his tongue in the corner of his mouth, one hand on his head.) Forty times a hundred is four thousand.


BLACK. (Almost laughing.) I’m just messin with you, Professor. Give me a number. Any number you like. And I’ll give you forty times it back.


WHITE. Twenty six.


BLACK. A thousand and forty.


WHITE. A hundred and eighteen.


BLACK. Four thousand seven hundred and twenty.


WHITE. Four thousand seven hundred and twenty.


BLACK. Yeah.


WHITE. The answer is the question.


BLACK. Say what?


WHITE. That’s your new number.


BLACK. Four thousand seven hundred and twenty?


WHITE. Yes.


BLACK. That’s a big number, Professor.


HITE. Yes it is.


BLACK. Do you know the answer?

WHITE. No. I don’t.


BLACK. It’s a hundred and eighty eight thousand and eight hundred. (They sit.)


WHITE. Let me have that. (The black slides the pad and pencil across the table. The professor does the figures and looks at them and looks at the black. He slides the pencil and paper back across the table and sits back.) How do you do that?


BLACK. Numbers is the black man’s friend. Butter and eggs. Crap table. You quick with numbers you can put the mojo on you brother. Confiscate the contents of his pocketbook. You get a lot of time to practice that shit in the jailhouse.


WHITE. I see.


BLACK. But let’s get back to all them books you done read. You think maybe you read four thousand books.


WHITE. Probably. Maybe more than that.


BLACK. But you ain’t read this one.


WHITE. No. Not the whole book. No.


BLACK. Why is that?


WHITE. I don’t know.


BLACK. What would you say is the best book that ever was wrote?


WHITE. I have no idea.


BLACK. Take a shot.


WHITE. There are a lot of good books.


BLACK. Well pick one.


WHITE. Maybe War and Peace.


BLACK. All right. You think that’s a better book than this one?


WHITE. I don’t know. They’re different kinds of books.


BLACK. This War and Peace book. That’s a book that somebody made up, right?


WHITE. Well, yes.


BLACK. So is that how it’s different from this book?


WHITE. Not really. In my view they’re both made up.


BLACK. Mm. Ain’t neither one of em true.


WHITE. Not in the historical sense. No.


BLACK. So what would be a true book?


WHITE. I suppose maybe a history book. Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire might be one. At least the events would be actual events. They would be things that had happened.


BLACK. Mm hm. You think that book is as good a book as this book here?


WHITE. The Bible.


BLACK. The Bible.


WHITE. I don’t know. Gibbon is a cornerstone. It’s a major book.


BLACK. And a true book. Don’t forget that.


WHITE. And a true book. Yes.


BLACK. But is it as good a book.


WHITE. I don’t know. I don’t know as you can make a comparison. You’re talking about apples and pears.


BLACK. No we ain’t talkin bout no apples and pears, Professor. We talkin bout books. Is that Decline and Fall book as good a book as this book here. Answer the question.


WHITE. I might have to say no.


BLACK. It’s more true but it ain’t as good.


WHITE. If you like.


BLACK. It ain’t what I like. It’s what you said.


WHITE. All right. (The black lays the Bible back down on the table.)


BLACK. It used to say here on the cover fore it got wore off: The greatest book ever written. You think that might be true?


WHITE. It might.


BLACK. You read good books.


WHITE. I try to. Yes.


BLACK. But not the best book. Why is that?


WHITE. I need to go.



“may we not speak of the old days?” [silence]—samuel beckett’s come and go

samuel beckett’s very short dramatic piece come and go is best understood through its title, its structure, and the overt allusion to macbeth at its outset.  most tellingly, at the play’s conclusion, the three figures link hands “in the old way”, turning the whole piece—for me, at least—into a carefully wound möbius strip of drama about life and the ever-present effects of temporality.

Come and Go opens with three similar figures of indeterminable age—Flo, Vi, and Ru— childhood friends who once attended “Miss Wade’s” together. They are sitting side-by-side on a narrow bench-like seat, something they used to do in the playground as children, and are wearing colourful full-length coats, somewhat dulled by time, In effect, they three faded flowers. “Drab nondescript hats … shade [their] faces.”

The play’s structure is circular or ring-like, and is divided into three equal segments of seven lines during which a character exits and enters after completing her circuit, and takes a seat different from the one she previously occupied. In this sense the characters also move around their seats in a ring shape. Hence the typical interpretation of the play as being about time, terminality and infinity. The play’s first line, with its deliberate echoes of Macbeth, seem to confirm that interpretation that Shakespeare’s meditation on time is an informing principle:

 

Macbeth
Wherefore was that cry?

Seyton
The queen, my lord, is dead.

Macbeth
She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

 

Come and Go

A dramaticule


For John Calder

 

Written in English early in 1965. First published in French by Editions de Minuit, Paris, in 1966. First published in English by Calder and Boyars, London, in 1967. First produced as Kommen und Gehen, translated by Elmar Tophoven, at the Schiller-Theater Werkstatt, Berlin, on 14 January 1966. First performed in English at the Peacock Theatre, Dublin, on 28 February 1968 and subsequently at the Royal Festival Hall, London, on 9 December 1968.


CHARACTERS :

FLO

VI

RU

(Age undeterminable)

 

Sitting centre side by side stage right to left FLO, VI and RU. Very erect, facing front, hands clasped in laps.

Silence
.


VI : When did we three last meet?


RU : Let us not speak.
     [Silence.
     Exit VI right.
     Silence.]


FLO : Ru.


RU : Yes.


FLO : What do you think of Vi?


RU : I see little change. [FLO moves to centre seat, whispers in
       
RU’s ear. Appalled.] Oh! [They look at each other. FLO
       puts her finger to her lips,] Does she not realize?


FLO : God grant not.
        [Enter VI. FLO and RU turn back front, resume pose. VI
        sits right.
        Silence.]
        Just sit together as we used to, in the playground at Miss 
        Wade’s.

RU : On the log.
      [Silence.
      Exit  FLO left.
      Silence.]
      Vi.


VI : Yes.


RU: How do you find FLO?


VI : She seems much the same. [RU moves to centre seat,
      whispers in
VI’s ear. Appalled.] Oh! [They look at each 
      other
. RU puts her finger to her lips.] Has she not been 
      told?


RU : God forbid.
       [Enter FLO. RU and VI turn back front, resume pose. FLO
       sits left.]
       Holding hands . . . that way.


FLO : Dreaming of . . . love.
        [Silence.
        Exit RU right.
        Silence
.]


VI : Flo.


FLO : Yes.


VI : How do you think Ru is looking?


FLO : One sees little in this light. [VI moves centre seat, 
        whispers in
FLO’s ear. Appalled.] Oh! [They look at 
        each other
. VI puts her finger to her lips.] Does she not 
        know?


VI : Please God not.
      [Enter RU. VI and FLO turn back front, resume pose. RU
      sits right.
      Silence
.]

      May we not speak of the old days? [Silence.] Of what
      came after? [Silence.] Shall we hold hands in the old
      way?

     
      [After a moment they join hands as follows : VI’s right
      hand with
RU’s right hand. VI’s left hand with FLO’s left
      hand
, FLO’s right hand with RU’s left hand, VI’s arms
      being above
RU’s left arm and FLO’s right arm. The three
      pairs of clasped hands rest on the three laps.
      Silence
.]


FLO: I can feel the rings.
       [Silence.]


CURTAIN

 

 

 

NOTES

 

                                  

Successive positions

 

 

 

1

FLO

VI

RU

2

FLO

 

RU

 

 

FLO

RU

3

VI

FLO

RU

4

VI

 

RU

 

VI

RU

 

5

VI

RU

FLO

6

VI

 

FLO

 

 

VI

VLO

7

RU

VI

FLO

Hands

 

 

 

 

RU

VI

FLO

 

RU         VI        FLO

 

 

    

Lighting
Soft, from above only and concentrated on playing area.
Rest of stage as dark as possible.


Costume

Full-length coats, buttoned high, dull violet (RU), dull red (Vi),
dull yellow (Flo). Drab nondescript hats with enough brim to
shade faces. Apart from colour differentiation three figures as
alike as possible. Light shoes with rubber soles. Hands made up
to be as visible as possible. No rings apparent.


Seat

Narrow benchlike seat, without back, just long enough to
accommodate three figures almost touching. As little visible as
possible. It should not be clear what they are sitting on.


Exits

The figures are not seen to go off stage. They should disappear a
few steps from lit area. If dark not sufficient to allow this,
recourse should be had to screens or drapes as little visible
as possible. Exits and entrances slow, without sound of feet.


Obs

Three very different sounds.


Voices

As low as compatible with audibility. Colourless except for
three ‘ohs’ and two lines following.
 


Watch an adaptation of Come and Go on
YouTube.


samuel beckett’s not i—protracted parataxis conveys a life lost and anonymous

Samuel Beckett’s Not I was first performed in November 1972 at the Forum Theatre of the Lincoln Centre in New York; the first U.K. performance came soon after, in January 1973 at London’s Royal Court Theatre.

Because of the play’s high modernist use of fragmented phrasing and imagery to represent a self shattered and self-divided, submersed in an alienation approaching the extremities of language, of thought itself, Not I has come to be regarded as an exemplar of modern theatre.

  

Samuel Beckett, Not I

Note

Movement: this consists in simple sideways raising of arms from sides and their falling back, in a gesture of helpless compassion. It lessens with each recurrence till scarcely perceptible at third. There is just enough pause to contain it as MOUTH recovers from vehement refusal to relinquish third person.

Stage in darkness but for MOUTH, upstage audience right, about 8 feet above stage level, faintly lit from close-up and below, rest of face in shadow. Invisible microphone.

AUDITOR, downstage audience left, tall standing figure, sex undeterminable, enveloped from head to foot in loose black djellaba, with hood, fully faintly lit, standing on invisible podium about 4 feet high shown by attitude alone to be facing diagonally across stage intent on MOUTH, dead still throughout but for four brief movements where indicated. See Note.

As house lights down MOUTH’s voice unintelligible behind curtain. House lights out. Voice continues unintelligible behind curtain, 10 seconds. With rise of curtain ad-libbing from text as required leading when curtain fully up and attention sufficient into: 

MOUTH: . . . . out . . . into this world . . . this world . . . tinylittle thing . . . before its time . . . in a godfor— . . . what? . . girl? . . yes . . . tiny little girl . . . into this . . . out into this . . . before her time . . . godforsaken hole called . . . called . . . no matter . . . parents unknown . . . unheard of . . . he having vanished . . . thin air . . . no sooner buttoned up his breeches . . . she similarly . . . eight months later . . . almost to the tick . . . so no love . . . spared that . . . no love such as normally vented on the . . . speechless infant . . . in the home . . . no . . . nor indeed for that matter any of any kind . . . no love of any kind . . . at any subsequent stage . . . so typical affair . . . nothing of any note till coming up to sixty when— . . . what? . . seventy? . . good God! . . coming up to seventy . . . wandering in a field . . . looking aimlessly for cowslips . . . to make a ball . . . a few steps then stop . . . stare into space . . . then on . . . a few more . . . stop and stare again . . . so on . . . drifting around . . . when suddenly . . . gradually . . . all went out . . . all that early April morning light . . . and she found herself in the— . . . what? . . who?. . no! . . she! . . [Pause and movement 1.]. . . . found herself in the dark . . . and if not exactly . . . insentient . . . insentient . . . for she could still hear the buzzing . . . so-called . . . in the ears . . . and a ray of light came and went . . . came and went . . . such as the moon might cast . . . drifting . . . in and out of cloud . . . but so dulled . . . feeling . . . feeling so dulled . . . she did not know . . . what position she was in . . . imagine! . . what position she was in! . . whether standing . . . or sitting . . . but the brain— . . . what? . . kneeling? . . yes . . . whether standing . . . or sitting . . . or kneeling . . . but the brain— . . . what? . . lying? . . yes . . . whether standing . . . or sitting . . . or kneeling . . . or lying . . . but the brain still . . . still . . . in a way . . . for her first thought was . . . oh long after . . . sudden flash . . . brought up as she had been to believe . . . with the other waifs . . . in a merciful . . . [Brief laugh.] . . . God . . . [Good laugh.] . . . first thought was . . . oh long after . . . sudden flash . . . she was being punished . . . for her sins . . . a number of which then . . . further proof if proof were needed . . . flashed through her mind . . . one after another . . . then dismissed as foolish . . . oh long after . . . this thought dismissed . . . as she suddenly realized . . . gradually realized . . . she was not suffering . . . imagine! . . not suffering! . . indeed could not remember . . . off-hand . . . when she had suffered less . . . unless of course she was . . . meant to be suffering . . . ha! . . thought to be suffering . . . just as the odd time . . . in her life . . . when clearly intended to be having pleasure . . . she was in fact . . . having none . . . not the slightest . . . in which case of course . . . that notion of punishment . . . for some sin or other . . . or for the lot . . . or no particular reason . . . for its own sake . . . thing she understood perfectly . . . that notion of punishment . . . which had first occurred to her . . . brought up as she had been to believe . . . with the other waifs . . . in a merciful . . . [Brief laugh.] . . . God . . . [Good laugh.] . . . first occurred to her . . . then dismissed . . . as foolish . . . was perhaps not so foolish . . . after all . . . so on . . . all that . . . vain reasonings . . . till another thought . . . oh long after . . . sudden flash . . . very foolish really but— . . . what? . . the buzzing? . . yes . . . all the time the buzzing . . . so-called . . . in the ears . . . though of course actually . . . not in the ears at all . . . in the skull . . dull roar in the skull . . . and all the time this ray or beam . . . like moonbeam . . . but probably not . . . certainly not . . . always the same spot . . . now bright . . . now shrouded . . . but always the same spot . . . as no moon could . . . no . . . no moon . . . just all part of the same wish to . . . torment . . . though actually in point of fact . . . not in the least . . . not a twinge . . . so far . . . ha! . . so far . . . this other thought then . . . oh long after . . .  sudden flash . . . very foolish really but so like her . . . in a way . . . that she might do well to . . . groan . . . on and off . . . writhe she could not . . . as if in actual agony . . . but could not . . . could not bring herself . . . some flaw in her make-up . . . incapable of deceit . . . or the machine . . . more likely the

machine . . . so disconnected . . . never got the message . . . or powerless to respond . . . like numbed . . . couldn’t make the sound . . . not any sound . . . no sound of any kind . . . no screaming for help for example . . . should she feel so
inclined
. . . scream . . . [Screams.] . . . then listen . . . [Silence.] . . . scream again . . . [Screams again.] . . . then listen again . . . [Silence.] . . . no . . . spared that . . . all silent as the grave . . . no part— . . . what? . . the buzzing? . . yes . . . all silent but for the buzzing . . . so-called . . . no part of her moving . . . that she could feel . . . just the eyelids . . . presumably . . . on and off . . . shut out the light . . . reflex they call it . . . no feeling of any kind . . . but the lids . . . even best of times . . . who feels them? . . opening . . . shutting . . . all that moisture . . . but the brain still . . . still sufficiently . . . oh very much so! . . at this stage . . . in control . . . under control . . . to question even this . . . for on that April morning .. . so it reasoned . . . that April morning . . . she fixing with her eye . . . a distant bell . . . as she hastened towards it . . . fixing it with her eye . . . lest it elude her . . . had not all gone out . . . all that light . . . of itself . . . without any . . . any . . . on her part . . . so on . . . so on it reasoned . . . vain questionings . . . and all dead still . . . sweet silent as the grave . . . when suddenly . . . gradually . . . she realiz— . . . what? . . the buzzing? . . yes . . . all dead still but for the buzzing . . . when suddenly she realized . . . words were— . . . what? . . who? . . no! . . she! . . [Pause and movement 2.] . . . realized . . . words were coming . . . imagine! . . words were coming . . . a voice she did not recognize . . . at first . . . so long since it had sounded . . . then finally had to admit . . . could be none other . . . than her own . . . certain vowel sounds . . . she had never heard . . . elsewhere . . . so that people would stare . . . the rare occasions . . . once or twice a year . . . always winter some strange reason . . . stare at her uncomprehending . . . and now this stream . . . steady stream . . . she who had never . . . on the contrary . . . practically speechless . . . all her days . . . how she survived! . . even shopping . . . out shopping . . . busy shopping centre . . . supermart . . . just hand in the list . . . with the bag . . . old black shopping bag . . . then stand there waiting . . . any length of time . . . middle of the throng . . . motionless . . . staring into space . . . mouth half open as usual . . . till it was back in her hand . . . the bag back in her hand . . . then pay and go . . . not as much as good-bye . . . how she survived! . . and now this stream . . . not catching the half of it . . . not the quarter . . . no idea . . . what she was saying . . . imagine! . . no idea what she was saying! . . till she began trying to . . . delude herself . . . it was not hers at all . . . not her voice at all . . . and no doubt would have . . . vital she should . . . was on the point . . . after long efforts . . . when suddenly she felt . . . gradually she felt . . . her lips moving . . . imagine! . . her lips moving! . . as of course till then she had not . . . and not alone the lips . . . the cheeks . . . the jaws . . . the whole face . . . all those— . . . what? . . the tongue? . . yes . . . the tongue in the mouth . . . all those contortions without which . . . no speech possible . . . and yet in the ordinary way . . . not felt at all . . . so intent one is . . . on what one is saying . . . the whole being . . . hanging on its words . . . so that not only she had . . . had she . . . not only had she . . . to give up . . . admit hers alone . . . her voice alone . . . but this other awful thought . . . oh long after . . . sudden flash . . . even more awful if possible . . . that feeling was coming back . . . imagine! . . feeling coming back! . . starting at the top . . . then working down . . . the whole machine . . . but no . . . spared that . . . the mouth alone . . . so far . . . ha! . . so far . . . then thinking . . . oh long after . . . sudden flash . . . it can’t go on . . . all this . . . all that . . . steady stream . . . straining to hear . . . make something of it . . . and her own thoughts . . . make something of them . . . all— . . . what! . . the buzzing? . . yes . . . all the time the buzzing . . . so-called . . . all that together . . . imagine! . . whole body like gone . . . just the mouth . . . lips . . . cheeks . . . jaws . . .never— . . . what? . . tongue? . . yes . . . lips . . . cheeks . . . jaws . . . tongue . . . never still a second . . . mouth on fire . . . stream of words . . . in her ear . . . practically in her ear . . . not catching the half . . . not the quarter . . . no idea what she’s saying . . . imagine! . . no idea what she’s saying! . . and can’t stop . . . no stopping it . . . she who but a moment before . . . but a moment! . . could not make a sound . . . no sound of any kind . . . now can’t stop . . . imagine! . . can’t stop the stream . . . and the whole brain begging . . . something begging in the brain . . . begging the mouth to stop . . . pause a moment . . . if only for a moment . . . and no response . . . as if it hadn’t heard . . . or couldn’t . . . couldn’t pause a second . . . like maddened . . . all that together . . . straining to hear . . . piece it together . . . and the brain . . . raving away on its own . . . trying to make sense of it . . . or make it stop . . . or in the past . . . dragging up the past . . . flashes from all over . . . walks mostly . . . walking all her days . . . day after day . . . a few steps then stop . . . stare into space . . . then on . . . a few more . . . stop and stare again . . . so on . . . drifting around . . . day after day . . . or that time she cried . . . the one time she could remember . . . since she was a baby . . . must have cried as a baby . . . perhaps not . . . not essential to life . . . just the birth cry to get her going . . . breathing . . . then no more till this . . . old hag already . . . sitting staring at her hand . . . where was it? . . Croker’s Acres . . . one evening on the way home . . . home! . . a little mound in Croker’s Acres . . . dusk . . . sitting staring at her hand . . . there in her lap . . . palm upward . . . suddenly saw it wet . . . the palm . . . tears presumably . . . hers presumably . . . no one else for miles . . . no sound . . . just the tears . . . sat and watched them dry . . . all over in a second . . . or grabbing at straw . . . the brain . . . flickering away on its own . . . quick grab and on . . . nothing there . . . on to the next . . . bad as the voice . . . worse . . . as little sense . . . all that together . . . can’t— . . . what? . . the buzzing? . . yes . . . all the time the buzzing . . . dull roar like falls . . . and the beam . . . flickering on and off . . . starting to move around . . . like moonbeam but not . . . all part of the same . . . keep an eye on that too . . . corner of the eye . . . all that together . . . can’t go on . . . God is love . . . she’ll be purged . . . back in the field . . . morning sun . . . April . . . sink face down in the grass . . . nothing but the larks . . . so on . . . grabbing at the straw . . . straining to hear . . . the odd word . . . make some sense of it . . . whole body like gone . . . just the mouth . . . like maddened . . . and can’t stop . . . no stopping it . . . something she— . . . something she had to— . . . what? . . who? . . no! . . she! . . [Pause and movement 3.] . . . something she had to— . . . what? . . the buzzing? . . yes . . . all the time the buzzing . . . dull roar . . . in the skull . . . and the beam . . . ferreting around . . . painless . . . so far . . . ha! . . so far . . . then thinking . . . oh long after . . . sudden flash . . . perhaps something she had to . . . had to . . . tell . . . could that be it? . . something she had to . . . tell . . . tiny little thing . . . before its time . . . godforsaken hole . . . no love . . . spared that . . . speechless all her days . . . practically speechless . . . how she survived! . . that time in court . . . what had she to say for herself . . . guilty or not guilty . . . stand up woman . . . speak up woman . . . stood there staring into space . . . mouth half open as usual . . . waiting to be led away . . . glad of the hand on her arm . . . now this . . . something she had to tell . . . could that be it? . . something that would tell . . . how it was . . . how she— . . . what? . . had been? . . yes . . . something that would tell how it had been . . . how she had lived . . . lived on and on . . . guilty or not . . . on and on . . . to be sixty . . . somethingshe— . . . what? . . seventy? . . good God! . . on and on to be seventy . . . something she didn’t know herself . . . wouldn’t know if she heard . . . then forgiven . . . God is love . . . tender mercies . . . new every morning . . . back in the field . . . April morning . . . face in the grass . . . nothing but the larks . . . pick it up there . . . get on with it from there . . . another few— . . . what? . . not that? . . nothing to do with that? . . nothing she could tell? . . all right . . . nothing she could tell . . . try something else . . . think of something else . . . oh long after . . . sudden flash . . . not that either . . . all right . . . something else again . . . so on . . . hit on it in the end . . . think everything keep on long enough . . . then forgiven . . . back in the— . . . what? . . not that either? . . nothing to do with that either? . . nothing she could think? . . all right . . . nothing she could tell . . . nothing she could think . . . nothing she— . . . what? . . who? . . no! . . she! . . [Pause and movement 4.] . . . tiny little thing . . . out before its time . . . godforsaken hole . . . no love . . . spared that . . . speechless all her days . . . practically speechless . . . even to herself . . . never out loud . . . but not completely . . . sometimes sudden urge . . . once or twice a year . . . always winter some strange reason . . . the long evenings . . . hours of darkness . . . sudden urge to . . . tell . . . then rush out stop the first she saw . . . nearest lavatory . . . start pouring it out . . . steady stream . . . mad stuff . . . half the vowels wrong . . . no one could follow . . . till she saw the stare she was getting . . . then die of shame . . . crawl back in . . . once or twice a year . . . always winter some strange reason . . . long hours of darkness . . . now this . . . this . . . quicker and quicker . . . the words . . . the brain . . . flickering away like mad . . . quick grab and on . . . nothing there . . . on somewhere else . . . try somewhere else . . . all the time something begging . . . something in her begging . . . begging it all to stop . . . unanswered . . . prayer unanswered . . . or unheard . . . too faint . . . so on . . . keep on . . . trying . . . not knowing what . . . what she was trying . . . what to try . . . whole body like gone . . . just the mouth . . . like maddened . . . so on . . . keep— . . . what? . . the buzzing? . . yes . . . all the time the buzzing . . . dull roar like falls . . . in the skull . . . and the beam . . . poking around . . . painless . . . so far . . . ha! . . so far . . . all that . . . keep on . . . not knowing what . . . what she was— . . . what? . . who? . . no! . . she! . . SHE! . . [Pause.] . . . what she was trying . . . what to try . . . no matter . . . keep on . . . [Curtain starts down.] . . . hit on it in the end . . . then back . . . God is love . . . tender mercies . . . new every morning . . . back in the field . . . April morning . . . face in the grass . . . nothing but the larks . . . pick it up

[Curtain fully down. House dark. Voice continues behind curtain, unintelligible, 10 seconds, ceases as house lights up.]