150: Daniel Keene part 2

18 Aug

So, today I read the next five plays in To Whom it May Concern and other plays. If I thought my heart was broken yesterday, it was well and truly wrung out today. Every drop of feeling spent.

Daniel Keene: To whom it may concern

Play four, Untitled Monologue, is spoken by a young man trying to survive in the city. He’s left his home and his Dad (who brought him up on his own) to try and find a job in the big smoke. But jobs are scarce, he doesn’t have the sort of experience people want and he’s staying in a hostel where no one wants to talk to him. The play is told through a series of letters home to his Dad interspersed with his thoughts and feelings as it all gets too much for him.

Dear Dad
I almost had some good news on the job front today but it turned out not to be I got called back to a place I’d been interviewed last week but they’d contacted the wrong person and it wasn’t me they were after just someone made a mistake it was a job in a warehouse they wanted someone young and strong to help with loading trucks but it turned out not to be me

Desperate for contact and feeling, never hearing from his Dad and with no money to pay for the hostel, the young man ends up on the street and hurts a woman who speaks to him. He’s lost and seems to have no chance of getting his life ‘back on track’ despite all his good intentions when he arrived.

Play five, Night, a Wall, Two Men, is about the relationship between two older homeless men. They meet every few evenings to talk about life and share stories of what they’ve eaten and who’s dead or suffering more than usual.

Tommy Randells lived in the shed in his old mother’s back yard he hanged himself from the peppercorn tree his mother cut him down herself his tongue sticking out blue and she kissed him on the cheek and said goodbye Tommy goodbye my little darling but he wasn’t little any more he was dead not poor not deaf not hungry not fucking miserable anymore

There’s humour and despair in this piece and the language is as blue as you’d expect from two old blokes who’ve lived rougher and more alone than most of us. There are also short descriptions that hit you in the solar plexus, like this one: There’s a face under these bruises she said it’s my face before Matt got through with me.

Play six, Kaddish, is one of the shortest in the collection and one of the most powerful. A man stands in the room he used to share with the woman he loved and recounts losing her and having to bury her in a pauper’s grave “that was the best I could do for her”. He longs to scream and describes the scream he’d like to give: Pigs I think it’s pigs that have the loudest scream when the butcher sticks his knife into them I’d like to scream like that I’m sure it’s pigs it makes your hair stand on end I’d like to scream like that. Instead of screaming he starts to quietly tear his clothes.

Play seven, The Violin, is spoken by three members of a family, each alone and remembering a time in the past when they were together. I imagined that they were Jewish and that the time they talked of was when the Nazis were in power but this isn’t explicit. What we know is that the man plays the violin, that he sleeps in a bed with his wife and their child between them and that he’s frightened.

Each night he asks his wife the same question, Are we safe? Each night she answers, Yes. But obviously they aren’t because one night they have to pack a suitcase and stand “very straight like bristles on a brush” on a train. The violin case lies open on their table and the candles are never lit again.

The final story, The Rain, is one of the most overwhelming (and seems to follow on from The Violin). It’s narrated by an old woman. She used to stand in a field just a field an ordinary field with nothing in it nothing growing in it just after a while these paths the people wore in the earth all those hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people walking across the field. The field was where the people were herded to board the trains for the concentration camps. She was young and would be out walking when they filed past her. As they went, they’d give her things: the precious things they’d been collecting and which they weren’t allowed to take on the train.

She safeguarded everything, sure that one day they’d be back for their treasures. As her house filled up with other people’s things, she had to move into the garden and that’s where she slept while her home became a museum, a shrine to the thousands who’d walked past her in the field.

I dare you to read this collection without a tear in your eye and a lump in your throat.

Publisher: Black Pepper

Cast: Play 4: 1M; Play 5: 2M; Play 6: 1M; Play 7: 1M, 2F; Play 8: 1F

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