149: To Whom it May Concern

17 Aug

Daniel Keene mixes poetry with stagecraft to create something heartbreaking and beautiful. It’s extremely rare for me to cry when reading a play but he’d managed it in a few masterful pages.

Daniel Keene: To Whom it May Concern

To Whom it May Concern is a collection of short plays, linked by love and loss. The first one, the one that had me crying and from which the collection gets its title, is about an older man who has just discovered he has inoperable cancer. It could be an ordinary story except that this man is the sole carer of his profoundly disabled 40-year-old son.

We follow the father as he tries, unsuccessfully, to find someone to take Leo and look after him. We see him pack a case for his son and (like Paddington Bear) pin an envelope to his coat with all his money and a note asking the finder to look after Leo. But no one is willing to approach the lost boy in a man’s body. We see the father take his son to the ocean and help him out of his clothes.

I want you to go in the water you’ll feel good it’s peaceful in the water you’ll feel the tide pulling you all that blue so big it’s all so big you’ll feel safe Leo out there in something so big it covers the earth just floating you know how to float don’t be scared put your trunks on don’t stand there naked like that you look so Leo you look so please Leo go in the water let the water take you please Leo
the son starts to whimper covering himself with his hands
Put your clothes on put your clothes back on we’ll go home it’s too cold today I’m sorry Leo
the father picks up his sons clothes and starts to dress him
I’m sorry

Keene writes the plays with almost no punctuation and with no character names. This makes it a much more challenging read and some of the dialogue scenes are quite hard to grasp until you work out which character is speaking. But the sparse beauty of the language and the emotional connection with characters and situations makes this extraordinarily beautiful reading.

In the second play in the collection, A Glass of Twilight, a travelling salesman and another man meet and hook up in a bar. The salesman wants love and companionship but compromises by paying for sex.

– I know about plays I’m not stupid everyone knows what the end is going to be when it happens they go home everyone goes home even the actors I knew an actor once at least he said he was an actor he was the loneliest man I ever knew
pause
-Until now
pause
– Until now

The next play, Neither Lost Nor Found, is about a mother reunited with her daughter who has been fostered out for nine years. There’s the push-pull of connection, regret, guilt and longing and, off stage and almost out of our thoughts, are the foster parents, who’ve been left bereft without the child they’ve loved for all this time. The love and hope we see blossoming on stage comes at a cost for someone else, someone we never see but who haunts the play.

Today I only had time to read the first three plays in this collection. I hope to read the next five tomorrow.

Publisher: Black Pepper

Cast: Play 1: 2M; Play 2: 2M; Play 3: 2F

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