Tag Archives: Marina Carr

152: Marble

20 Aug

Marina Carr describes Marble as a “gift” of a play. “I got the story from Fiona Shaw one hot summer’s night in London over a mackerel dinner. Fiona Shaw got the story from Ted Hughes, who got it from an Icelandic poet, who probably got it from a seal, who got it from a wandering meteorite…” I can see the mythic and dreamlike appeal of the piece, the fantastic becoming real and the impossible, possible … but this play doesn’t quite get there for me.

marble statue

Marble is a story is of two couples: Catherine and Ben and Art and Anne. Ben and Art are friends but the couples haven’t had much to do with each other and Catherine and Art have barely spoken three words to each other. The play opens with Art telling Ben that he’s had an erotic dream about Catherine. Art doesn’t think the revelation is important, he doesn’t expect it to shake Ben the way it does. It’s just a dream after all.

ART: Do you mind me saying I dreamt I made love to your wife last night?
BEN: I’m not sure you shouldn’t have kept it to yourself.
ART: You’re very old-fashioned.
BEN: Am I?
ART: I didn’t realise you were so repressed.

When Ben gets home, Catherine tells him that she dreamt about Art, that there was “lots of marble” and “wild pleasure”. It turns out they’ve both dreamt the same dream. Each night Catherine and Art dream of a marble room and the most highly charged, erotic sex of their lives, with each other.

The joy of her dreaming life takes over Catherine, so that she can no longer bear to be awake. Her children are forgotten and all her routines are lost for the bliss of sleep.

BEN: I have a woman at home who sleeps twenty-four hours a day, she gets up in the middle of the night, eats crackers and hard-boiled eggs from their shells which she scatters around the carpets, the stairs. She hovers around windows, doorways, leans against the fence for an hour at a time and then sinks back into her catatonic dream of you.

Friendships are destroyed and marriages fall to ruins, all because of dreams of a marble room and the possibility of something extraordinary. The play raised questions about infidelity in my mind. When does the betrayal occur? Is it only when sex occurs, or can there be infidelity in dreams? And is the play just about sex, or is it about death, because that’s another possible reading of the marble room and the ecstasy it inspires…

CATHERINE: My reptilian brain is on the ascent, and I’m on a descent, a descent away from some marble room that cannot be reached. Why are we given such images, such sublime yearnings for things that are never there? A dream was given to me, inside me from birth, a dream of marble, a woman in a marble room with her lover. And all the waking world can do is thwart it and deny it, and say, no, it cannot be, childish, impossible, you must walk the grey paths with the rest of us, go down into the wet muck at the close. That’s your lot.

Publisher: Faber and Faber (published in Marina Carr: Plays 2)

Cast: 2M, 2F

111: The Cordelia Dream

10 Jul

I love Marina Carr. Her writing is passion, longing, dark and light, everything fearsome and all our blackest desires, writ out large on the page.

King Lear with the body of Cordelia

King Lear with the body of Cordelia, illustration by Friedrich Pecht in Shakespeare-Galerie, 1876.

The Cordelia Dream is Carr’s own wonderful take on the last act of King Lear. A father and his daughter fight to the death. He’s an elderly composer and musician, locked away in a room with a piano and little else. She is also a musician and composer and has achieved more success than he has, to his great outrage and distrust.

He calls her dog-hearted and a viper and believes that she has sucked the talent from him, leaving him unable to compose. So he blames her for his lack of success and curses her achievements. He believes that only her death will release him to the greatness he is capable of.

MAN: You stopped being my daughter a long time ago.

WOMAN: Yes, I stopped when I felt your claws around my throat, strangling all fledgling aspirations. Yes, I removed myself for protection, protection of this gift you spit on. I watched you. I gave you chances – too many! – to redeem yourself. I let you hold my firstborn. But I watched and I saw you wanted me to be a failure like you.

MAN: I am a great artist.

WOMAN: I’m glad you think so, for no one else does.

MAN: I am a genius. A genius! And you are a charlatan! A charlatan who stole my gift when I wasn’t looking. You are a charlatan who has plagiarised from everyone.

WOMAN: That’s what art is. Plagiarism and cunning disguise, a snapping up of unconsidered trifles.

In the first act of The Cordelia Dream, the daughter comes to visit her father, hoping to at last have it out with him and come to some sort of peace. But there can be no peace between them and he sends her away with only his curse and wish for her death.

The second act is five years later. The old man has gone mad when his daughter visits him again. Madness hasn’t mellowed his memories but he’s gradually able to talk of paternal love, even though he disguises it in fable and keeps the venom at its core. He must always think his child capable of the worst sins, capable of wishing his destruction. So even when he talks of love, it’s love of a viper.

MAN: My wife and I had a goat-faced child. Goat-faced, dog-hearted with the soul of a snake. We buried her under the blue swing in the field of beech trees. But out she came, ate the coffin, clay in her eyes, and we took her in. My wife said, we’ll pay for this. I said no, I had such faith in the heart of God. This is what she sounded like.  (He plays a few notes on the piano.) And we loved this goat-faced, dog-hearted one as if she was our own. I even taught her the violin.

He doesn’t mention that the reason he taught her the violin was that he had locked the piano so that neither she nor her mother, who could also play, could ever rival his talent. Cutting her down is his way of maintaining his place on his pedestal.

The reviews I’ve read of the RSC production of The Cordelia Dream were overwhelmingly negative, but I wonder if this is to do with the production. Reading it on the page there was light and shade, not an unrelenting howl of pain as some seem to have taken it. I’m marking this play as biographical although this may be a complete overstatement on my part. Apparently Carr’s father was also a playwright and the director’s notes for the RSC production said that she was “addressing themes that have long haunted her”.

Publisher: Faber and Faber (included in Marina Carr: Plays 2)

Cast: 1M, 1F

105: Ariel

4 Jul

Marina Carr modelled her play Ariel on Aeschylus’s The Oresteia, compressing the three-play tragedy into one three-act play.

Bernadino Mei's painting of Orestes slaying Aegisthus and Clytemnestra

Ariel is the name of the daughter sacrificed by her politician father, Fermoy. She’s born with the stubs of wings, beloved of both parents, but killed by her father who believes that God wants him to make a blood sacrifice, and that after he’s made it he’ll have the power he craves.

Fermoy believes he has direct access to God as he explains to his brother Boniface, who is a priest. Boniface asks him to describe God seeing as he knows him so well and this is what Fermoy says:

FERMOY: Oh, he’s beauhiful. When he throws hees head back hees hair gets tangled in the stars, in hees hands are seven moons thah he juggles like worry beads. Hees eyes is shards of obsidian, hees skin is turquoise, and hees mouth is a staggerin red, whah the first red musta been before ud all started fadin. I’m noh capturin him righ, for how can ya parse whah is perfect.

A little bit later, Fermoy describes the deal he’s made with God.

FERMOY: I’m on this earth to rule. Was born knowin ud. Timidihy has held me back till now. Ud’ll hould me back no longer. I refuse to spind any more a me life on the margins. I refuse to succumb to an early exih. I’ll give him wah he wants for ud’s hees in the first place anyway.

BONIFACE: And whah is ud he wants?

FERMOY: I tould ya, blood and more blood, blood till we’re dry as husks, then pound us down, spread us like salt on the land, begin the experiment over, on different terms next time.

Fermoy’s wife Frances still mourns the death of her first husband and child. When Ariel goes missing she scours the country for her, but ten years later realises that her now influential politician husband killed her. She stabs him in her fury. For an audience this seems justifiable homicide but, for her surviving children, there’s no forgiving the woman who killed their father, no matter what he did to deserve it.

ELAINE: She killed our father, slashed him till blood ran down the walls. I had to bury him in pieces.

Elaine, the Electra of the piece, has never cared for her mother: her loyalties have always been unswervingly with her father.

ELAINE: Whah my father done to Ariel had the grandeur a God in ud. Pure sacrifice. Ferocious, aye. Buh pure. Whah you done to him was a puckered, vengeful, self-servin thing wud noh a whiff of the immortal in ud.

Ariel is a brave, crazy play. A wonderful blend of myth, legend, dreams and greed. Blood follows blood and revenge just breeds more revenge as a family tears itself apart in one man’s quest for power.

Publisher: Faber and Faber (included in Marina Carr: Plays 2)

Cast: 4M, 5F plus 1M and 1F child (unless doubled with their adult counterparts)

99: On Raftery’s Hill

28 Jun

Marina Carr’s On Raftery’s Hill is a bleak family drama, with a family as dark and twisted as a dead, bonsai tree.

view from Girraween

View from Bald Rock, Girraween (where I read this play)

Red, the father, is in his sixties and rules his family with fear and brutality. His traumatised son Ded refuses to come into the house, sleeping in the cow byre, covered with cow dung and playing the fiddle. Red’s mother Shalome is losing her mind, attempting to leave the house and make her way back to the village on an almost daily basis.

SHALOME: Goodbye Raftery’s Hill. I shall not miss you. (Strews flowers grandly over landing, stairs, kitchen below.) Goodbye disgusting old kitchen and filthy old stairs. I shall never climb you again. Never. Goodbye Slieve Blooms, goodbye Mohia Lane, Black Lion, Ruedeskank, Croggan, Mucklagh. How could anyone be happy in a place called Mucklagh?

Red’s daughter Dinah runs the house, keeping him in whiskey and also keeping his bed warm for him, as she has done since she was a child. His youngest child Sorrel seems to be the only one of them free from the family curse and likely to escape as she is being courted by a young man from the village.

The fields outside the house are filled with the corpses of rotting animals: the sheep and cattle that Red tortures and doesn’t bother to bury, choosing instead to leave them to bloat and fester. But the rot in his fields doesn’t come even close to the rot in his home.

RED: We were big loose monsters, Mother, hurlin through the air, wud carnage in our hearts and blood under our nails, and no stupid laws houldin us down or back or in.

On Raftery’s Hill is a slow extinguishing of all hope. The brutal father destroys everything he owns, and that includes his family. Sorrel is always the one who’s going to get away and be saved, but after the brutal ‘skinning’ Red inflicts on her, she’s caught and trapped like all the other poor animals on the farm. There’ll be no escape or happy ending for anything living on Raftery’s Hill.

Publisher: Faber and Faber (included in Marina Carr: Plays 2)

Cast: 4M, 3F

54: Portia Coughlan

14 May

Marina Carr’s third play was written just two years after The Mai and shows how rapidly her distinctive style and voice took shape.

Child reads on couch with play next to her

It’s Portia Coughlan’s thirtieth birthday and she’s haunted by her twin brother who died when he was fifteen. The haunting is literal and figurative: we see and hear Gabriel in the same way that Portia does – always in the distance, disappearing before he can be caught.

PORTIA: Came out the womb holdin’ hands – When God was handin’ out souls he must’ve got mine and Gabriel’s mixed up, aither that or he gave us just the one between us and it went into the Belmont River with him – Oh, Gabriel, ya had no right to discard me so, to float me on the world as if I were a ball of flotsam. Ya had no right.

Portia is unable to love her husband or any of her children, turning to drink instead. She has developed a knife sharp tongue and is cruel to those who love her most, but it’s all part of her armour. The play could be terribly dark, but there are pockets of humour thanks to the levity in some of the other characters: like Portia’s ex-prostitute aunt and her ‘eejit’ husband. Here they are, knocking at the door to Portia’s home:

SENCHIL: Don’t strain your voice, pet.

MAGGIE: Alright, pet. Portia! Take the cigarette out of me mouth, pet, stingin’ the sockets of me eyes.

SENCHIL: (Takes cigarette out of her mouth) You want another puff before I put it out, pet?

Portia Coughlin is a tragedy but it’s leavened with laughter and larger-than-life characters. From the foul-mouthed grandmother who’s held her tongue for 80 years and is now going to speak her mind, to the one-eyed friend, known as the Cyclops of Coolinarney, this is a play filled with glorious parts for actors.

While there’s a little bit of VC Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic in the story, Marina Carr makes the subject matter much more interesting and disturbing.

Publisher: Faber and Faber

Cast: 5F, 6M

48: The Mai

8 May

For Mother’s Day I’ve chosen a play about mothers: although the women in The Mai could be used for advertising how not to be a parent.

Katherine reading Marina Carr

Marina Carr’s second play, The Mai, is much closer in style to her later plays that I’ve loved so dearly. And it’s a treasure trove of parts for female actors.

Four generations of women from one family are gathered together in the new house that The Mai has built at Owl Lake. There’s Grandma Fraochlan (100 years old and the pick of the parts), her two daughters (Julie and Agnes), three grand daughters (Mai, Connie and Beck) and a great grand daughter (Millie). The thorn in their midst is Robert, The Mai’s estranged husband, who’s taken a break from his philandering ways and come home to the beautiful house The Mai built to lure him back.

As always with Marina Carr’s writing the language is beautiful, evocative and poetic and the characters possess flaws that you know will cause their demise.

Grandma Fraochlan is no doubt the start of all the damage. When she arrives on stage carrying the wooden oar she won’t be parted with (it’s all that’s left of her husband), she appears a light-hearted figure for comic relief. With her opium pipe and mulberry wine, she could easily be a figure of fun. But it’s her obsession with her long dead husband that sets the patterns all the offspring seem doomed to follow.

GRANDMA FRAOCHLAN: I know he was a useless father, Julie, I know, and I was a useless mother. It’s the way we were made! There’s two types of people in this world from what I can gather, them as puts their children first and them as puts their lover first and for what it’s worth, the nine-fingered fisherman and meself belongs ta the latter of these. I would gladly have hurled all seven of ye down the slopes of hell for one night more with the nine-fingered fisherman and may I rot eternally for such unmotherly feelin’.

This is a play that’s full of dreams, images and ghosts (not literal ones). The characters are haunted by the past and the future seems pre-ordained, set in motion by dreams and hauntings. Millie, the youngest character, is on stage throughout playing her part in two times: aged 16 in the ‘present’ all the other characters inhabit, and as a woman of 30, remembering the events. She’s often the audience’s window into the dark rooms.

MILLIE: None of The Mai and Robert’s children are very strong. We teeter along the fringe of the world with halting gait, reeking of Owl Lake at every turn. I dream of water all the time. I’m floundering off the shore, or bursting towards the surface for air, or wrestling with a black swan trying to drag me under. I have not yet emerged triumphant from those lakes of the night.

Publisher: Faber and Faber

Cast: 7F, 1M

44: Low in the Dark

4 May

Another Marina Carr play but, I feel almost guilty for saying it, not such a good one. Which either means that I need to go back and read it again in the hopes that I “get it” next time, or that she might just be human and sometimes write plays that are okay but not brilliant. (Or it could be that it was her first play and she was still developing as a writer.)

Cat and book

Low in the Dark is an abstract, absurd look at the war between the sexes; fertility; communication and sexual stereotypes. With a character called Curtain, whom you never catch a glimpse of because she is covered head-to-toe with curtains, drapes and blinds, you know you’re entering a mad world, where anything is possible.

Bender spends a lot of her time in a bath, giving birth to hordes of babies and hoping that a man, any man, will come along and be the one. Her possible daughter, Binder, juggles the babies (sometimes literally) and pines for a child of her own. Maybe. Or perhaps not. The two engage in a recurring game where one of them plays the man and says the dialogue that a man might have said or would say. Curtain sometimes comes into the bathroom and sits on the toilet and tells them a story of a man and a woman walking along a long road and attempting to converse.

Bone and Baxter are two men in another room, playing at being women. But then Bone gets pregnant and Baxter gets jealous. And the baby Bone is pregnant with is Binder’s. Confused yet? Good!

BONE: I want a permanent relationship for a month or two, and sure who’s to say the third month would be the death of us? Are you happy?

BINDER: No, I’m not!

BONE: I want a woman who knows how to love. I want laser beams coming out of her eyes when I enter the room. I want her to knit like one possessed. I want her to cook softly.

BINDER: I want a man who’ll wash my underwear, one who’ll brush my hair, one who’ll talk before, during and after. I want a man who’ll make other men look mean.

I much prefer Marina Carr’s later work, but there are still moments of beauty in Low in the Dark. The idea of cooking softly is one of them. She has a rare gift with language.

Publisher: Faber and Faber

Cast: 3F, 2M

27: By the Bog of Cats…

17 Apr

It’s only a few days since I read Marina Carr’s Woman and Scarecrow, but I decided to give myself a treat and read another play by this incredible Irish playwright.

woman holding copy of By the Bog of Cats

By the Bog of Cats… is a deeply disturbing, brilliant play. The Medea myth runs through it as does Ireland’s deep distrust of travellers (gypsies/tinkers). Hester Swane is a woman who was abandoned by her tinker mother when she was just a girl. She’s never been trusted by the villagers and is now a woman of 40 with a child of her own. The play begins with Hester dragging a dead black swan across the icy ground of the Bog of Cats and meeting a stranger, The Ghost Fancier.

From the very first page of the play, we know that Hester’s doomed, what we don’t know is how her doom will transpire and who she will take down with her.

HESTER: I was born on the Bog of Cats and on the Bog of Cats I’ll end me days. I’ve as much right to this place as any of yees, more, for it holds me to it in ways it has never held yees. And as for me tinker blood, I’m proud of it. It gives me an edge over all of yees around here, allows me see yees for the inbred, underbred, bog-brained shower yees are.

The cast is peopled with amazing characters, like the Catwoman: a blind seer who eats mice and laps milk from a saucer.

HESTER: There’s a longin’ in me for her [her mother] that won’t quell the whole time.

CATWOMAN: I wouldn’t long for Josie Swane if I was you. Sure the night ya were born she took ya over to the black swan’s lair, auld Black Wing ya’ve just buried there, and laid ya in the nest alongside her. And when I axed her why she’d do a thing like that with snow and ice everywhere, ya know what she says, ‘Swane means swan.’ ‘That may be so,’ says I, ‘but the child’ll die of pneumonia.’ ‘That child,’ says Josie Swane, ‘will live as long as this black swan, not a day more, not a day less.’

By the Bog of Cats … is a truly astonishing play. Reading it haunts you and I can only imagine how powerful it must be in performance.

Publisher: Faber and Faber

Cast: 6F, 6M

22: Woman and Scarecrow

12 Apr

I adore this play by Irish playwright Marina Carr. It’s a couple of years now since I first read it and it’s been sheer pleasure to dive into its rich language and beautiful imagery again today.

cup of tea and book

Woman and Scarecrow is a play about a woman who is dying young, leaving eight children and a ridiculously unfaithful husband behind her. The person she has at her side is Scarecrow: her alter ego or perhaps a figment of her imagination. While the woman readies herself for death, Scarecrow rages at her for giving up on herself.

This is a play about dying and about living fully. It’s funny and stark, terrifying and beautiful. Perhaps the most frightening image is death, in the form of a giant crow, waiting in the cupboard to come for the woman:

SCARECROW: You think all the dead were ready? That thing will eat you alive. He doesn’t care. I’ve seen him in action. He’s in there now making a bracelet out of infant anklet bones.

Later, as Scarecrow and Woman talk about death the images become more confronting:

WOMAN: Waking in the coffin with the serpent at my breast … yes, I’m afraid of that.

SCARECROW: Or the rats boring through the plywood, their paws on your face.

WOMAN: My belly a pudding of worms.

SCARECROW: And you awake the whole time. Watching the serpent and the rat and the worms have their smelly feast.

You can read this play and be provoked to think about life’s big questions, or you can simply immerse yourself in the glorious imagery. Images like a woman “battering the spuds into a venomous pulp”.

There’s a rich thread of humour that runs through Woman and Scarecrow as well, particularly in the characters of HIM (the husband who has his lover waiting in the car outside while his wife is dying) and AUNTIE AH (the sort of piously vicious maiden aunt that fiction adores).

But the laughter is there to make you think harder and to make the subject darker.

WOMAN: This is a different leaving.

SCARECROW: It certainly is. We’re not talking a few years here. We’re talking never. Never. We’re talking the five nevers and the four howls.

I hope I’ll have a chance to see this in production one day. I imagine it would be magnificent on stage.

Publisher: Faber and Faber

Cast: 3F, 1 M