I never finished writing my close-read of the script, so perhaps I should bull on with that, despite having actually completed two weeks of rehearsals.
Jack’s third entrance is in the second act, which takes place three weeks after Act One. Jack is much stronger physically, and his aphasia is gone, although he still worries about whether he is getting words right. He starts out talking with just Maggie, and then Kate comes in—I feel that Jack, for whatever reason, treats Maggie like a pleasant but new-met friend, while Kate he treats as an indulgent older brother. It makes sense that he might have properly known Kate before he left. Let’s see, if he left for school at sixteen, Kate would have been three and Maggie a baby. There are presumably (I have been assuming) a few visits every year during Jack’s school and college and the first years of his priesthood, so that while he wouldn’t have been in the household, he would have seen them grow up. When he leaves (twenty-five years before the play), he is twenty-eight, Kate is fifteen and Maggie thirteen. Is that enough of a difference? I think perhaps it is. I am a youngest, so I don’t really know, but maybe.
Digression: If we figure that Jack’s mother was very young when she had Jack, a teenager, then when Christina was born she would have been… forty-five? At least? That’s quite a thing. Is it possible that Jack is a half-brother? I could imagine that, just to sketch out one possibility, Jack’s mother dies when Kate is born (or during an influenza epidemic?) and that their father remarries a younger woman, who is, say, twenty when Maggie is born in 1918, and thus when Chris is born would have been thirty-two. If so, then Jack and Kate both refer to their stepmother as Mother, and Kate speaks of her with affection and respect. I don’t think the text supports this stepmother idea at all, which means we stick with one woman having six children over a spread of twenty-seven years. End Digression.
Anyway, this scene starts with Jack feeling stronger, and then pivots on his memory of a bit of music to his celebrating Mass, and then goes into a long near-monologue describing a festival in his Ugandan village. When I say long, it’s almost six hundred words, with occasional brief interjections from Kate or Maggie. Nearly as long as Malvolio’s letter scene, let’s say. And it’s the heart, really, of Jack’s part of the play. It touches on all the major themes of the play: dancing, memory, community, loss. Faith. It’s purely a description, not a story at all, really, and peters out rather than coming to a punch line. It’s a difficult bit, and I’m not altogether sure I’m doing it right.
One thing about the speech is that it is, nominally, a revelation to the sisters. When he exits, the stage direction says that the sisters stare at each other in concern, in alarm. And yet, it has little that he hasn’t already indicated, or that they haven’t already suspected. Indeed, Kate’s first line after is I told you – you wouldn’t believe me – I told you. His enthusiasm for the “pagan” ritual (to use one of Kate’s favorite disparagements) doesn’t come out of nowhere. Jack, also, has no intention to shock; he treats his anecdote as a corroborative detail in a larger already-understood story. The audience, too… it’s hard to imagine that the audience has failed to pick up on the clues, or indeed that they will be shocked or dismayed that this fellow has “gone native”. Probably in 1956, when the play is set, it would be dismaying; in 1990, when it premiered, it might have been less so; in 2018, the audience would be more dismayed had the colonizer not had a change of heart and come to appreciate the local practices. So the function of the speech within the play, for the audience, is, well, tricky. I don’t think I have any sense of it, yet.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,