Father Jack production diary: first close-read, part two

So. The second time Jack wanders onstage, it’s a longer scene. Four of the sisters are there (Rose is off-stage) and he begins with the line: If anybody is looking for me, I’ll be down at the bank of the river for the rest of the… I beg your pardon. My mind was… It’s Kate. Having recognized Kate, he then recognizes Maggie and Aggie, and on being properly introduced to Chris, he starts on an anecdote of about a hundred and fifty words, talking about when he left Ballybeg twenty-five years previously, back when Chris was a baby. He then tells three more stories in quick succession, in less detail, before starting what could reasonably be called a conversation. I suspect that’s his normal mode, that he’s a storyteller, a talker and not a listener. A guy, you know.

There’s a kind of arc, or rather double-arc to the scene. He comes in a bit confused, starts to gather strength, has a couple more instances of his peculiar agnosia, and then noticeably winds down. Then he catches a second wind (remembering the word from before) and perks up considerably. It’s within the larger arc of his recovery; I think the moment of weakness foreshadows the illusory nature of the recovery and his eventual off-stage fatal heart attack. Or, you know, it may just be breaking up a potentially boring sequence of yarns.

It’s during this bit that we start to learn about Jack’s experience in and attitude toward Ryanga. Ryanga… I’m going to have to write about the thing where my character tells these stories about how much better and purer life is in this mythical African village, where there is no distinction between the secular and the religious, and everyone cares for each other, and they can use vibranium to heal wait a minute that’s not right. This is the white European version of the African Village trope and, er, well, at some point I should probably write about how this fits in to the whole trope, and all of that. It’s not unproblematic.

Anyway, when Jack finally begins a proper conversation, it’s with Chris: he asks after Michael, and he says I have still to meet your husband. She has to explain that she is an unwed mother. There is a certain hesitancy in the conversation, as you might imagine. And then Jack says He’s a fine boy. I love that moment; the moment when The Church threatens to come down from on high and ruin their little household, but instead he talks to her as a brother and an uncle. It’s the one real moment of connection, I think, for Jack, in the whole play. The moment when he is really, properly, there in the house with his sisters, and not half in his dream-Uganda. I hope I find more moments, throughout my scenes, but that’s the one in the script that really shines out for me.

That’s my main question, in this scene and the others: how much does Jack really connect with his sisters? How much does he understand of their reactions to his oh-so-amusing anecdotes? For that matter, how do they react? How different are the reactions to each other? How much are the reacting to Jack as a person, and how much to the priest, the stranger, the gone-native traveler? Preparing the scene by myself, with the text how it is, it’s very easy to assume that there isn’t much connection there, and that Jack doesn’t see or ignores any unhappy reactions. Or happy ones, for that matter. And that’s plausible enough; I know plenty of people (including myself) who will cap a story with another without checking to see how the people in the room reacted to the first one. Still, it’s not usually the best choice to keep the audience interested in what’s happening on stage.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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