Autumn-winter 2004
 

 

  Autumn-winter 2004

  ACID RAIN
  Nermina KURSPAHIĆ
 
 

A PLAY IN THREE ACTS

 

ACT I

  

Scene 1

 

Mount Rushmore, South Dakota.  DAY.  The presidents are murmuring to each other, their eyes, lips, and heads moving.  LOUD, UNRULY CROWD NOISES from offstage.  The presidents crane their necks toward the sounds, which are coming from the harbor district in New York City.

 

ROOSEVELT

What’s the hubbub?  Lean back, Abe!  I can’t see through you.

 

LINCOLN

(leaning back and peering toward his left)

They’re coming.  Again…

 

JEFFERSON

Who?  The Africans?

 

WASHINGTON

No, by God!  It's the Irish, and –

 

His voice is drowned out by the clamor of many voices with Irish accents.  Mount Rushmore and the presidents fade, as the lights come up on the New York docks.

 

FIRST VOICE (male)

Hurry!  Liam, Liam!  –  Where’s Liam?

 

General crying and shouting.

 

CUSTOMS OFFICER

Order!  Order, all of you!  Move along, there!

 

Masses of people, shoving and falling over each another.

 

SECOND VOICE (male)

Hey there – stop pushing!

 

A fight breaks out.

 

LOST CHILD

(frightened, crying)

Mamma!  Mamma, where are you?

 

THIRD VOICE (female)

Where’s my boy?  Where is he?

 

FIRST VOICE (male)

There where all beauty is; there where strong winds blow; there where the sea pounds furiously; there where strength and blood breed the verses of the ages…

 

His voice becomes deeper and more resonant as he recites the last verse of James Clarence Mangan’s translation of “Kinkora” (written by the Irish poet MacLiag ca. 1075 A.D., in memory of Brian Boru and the men who fell at the battle of Clontarf).

 

I am MacLiag, and my home is on the Lake;

Thither often, to that palace whose beauty is fled,

Come Brian to ask me, and I went for his sake

Oh, my grief!  That I should live, and Brian be dead!

 

THIRD VOICE (female)

You’re mad, I tell you!  May God grant you die, and not my Brian. 

 

(screaming)

Wake up, you bloody fool!  This is America, not Ireland!

 

END of Scene 1

 

 

 

Scene 2

 

Evening.  The lights come up on a table set with generous amounts of food and drink.  About ten adult GUESTS are seated around it, eating and drinking in silence, quickly and with a hearty appetite.  As they eat, three CHILDREN run around the table, shouting. 

 

FIRST CHILD

I am Erimhon [pronounced “Arivon”], King of Ireland,

and you must all bow to me!

 

SECOND CHILD

I am Chief Sitting Bull, lord of this land and all of its creatures!

 

THIRD CHILD

I am President Bush, the leader of America,

the bravest and strongest of all!

 

The children start hitting each other and screaming.

 

UNCLE GREGORY

(eyeing the children and downing a long swallow of whiskey)

Would some kind soul take pity and tell me why are we favored

with this gracious company?

 

AUNTIE SHEILA

(angrily, snatching his glass from him)

You drunken fool!  We’re at the MacMillans’! 

It’s St. Patrick’s Day!

 

UNCLE GREGORY

(unabashed)

Ah, so it is!  Long live Paddy, the poor slave from Antrim!  Good was all he ever did.  For his country.  For Ireland.  Traveled with dogs to Auxerre, to bring the true faith to the savages, to put the shield of honor over her, over Mother Ireland.

(starting to slur his words)

Not the Romans, not the Scots, not the bloody English ever conquered Ireland –

 

MARY

(interjecting)

More than can be said for whiskey!

 

UNCLE GREGORY

(continuing, ignoring her)

– What great good fortune!  No snakes in Ireland, eh?  They’re all over here!

 

AUNTIE SHEILA

And who is it you’re calling snakes, you barmy maunderer?

 

Amid laughter, drinking glasses are smashed.  AUNTIE SHEILA stands up suddenly, knocking over her chair.

 

AUNTIE SHEILA

Shame on you!  Shame on all of you!  Have you forgotten your own history?  Have you no respect for our family, for our suffering?  Should my grandfather have waited for the bloody English to set fire to his land as well?  To kill him, and grandmother too?

 

AUNTIE SHEILA starts to cry.

 

JOHNNY

(comforting her)

There, there, Auntie Sheila.  Don’t be that way.  It’s a holiday, isn’t it?  Of course we respect our past.  We carry our wounds in our souls.  Let’s not open them up again.  Especially seeing as how for some of us, they’re still so fresh… 

 

MARY

(bitterly)

Especially for you – you’re such a hero.

 

JOHNNY

(quietly, dangerously)

And just what, Mary me dear, is that supposed to mean?

 

MARY

(upset, and more than a little tipsy)

It means that everyone at this table knows exactly who came to America, and when, and why.  And we remember how Miriam Daly died, and Noel Lyttle.[1]  We remember how Sheila and Hanna were wounded, and what their brothers did to them.  Whose parents were left behind, and whose land was left to rot – 

 

JOHNNY

(suddenly very angry)

You don’t know a damned thing about it, you stupid bitch!  And don’t you ever mention Hanna to me!

 


 

UNCLE GREGORY

(shouting)

Yes, yes – Sunday, Bloody Sunday.  –  Did I ever tell you how I joined the Free Derry movement?  Me and Bernadette Devlin, we –

 

EVERYONE

(in unison)

Yes, you did!

 

AUNTIE SHEILA

At least a hundred times.  And we’re not interested.  It’s Ireland we care about, not you and your –

 

General tumult and shouting.

– Yes, we do care!

– Enough of that, now!

 

HANNA enters, in a wheelchair.  As they notice her presence, the guests fall silent.

 

HANNA M.

Such a commotion!  Must every party turn into a brawl?  The Irish, the Irish!  It never changes.

 

MARY

(hurrying over to her)

Hanna, my dear!  I’m so very glad to see you.

 

HANNA M.

(wryly)

Is that a fact, now?

 

JOANNA

(turning to Mary)

Don’t think you’re fooling anyone.  All that sympathy and understanding.  In my book it’s nothing but spite!

 


 

HANNA M.

(continuing)

What is it you’re saying, then?  That my brother and Sheila’s are to blame for what happened to us?  Is that what you’re saying?  Speak up, now!

 

AUNTIE SHEILA

For the love of heaven, girls.  Everyone knows it was the British loyalists, and not our brothers, who –

 

MARY

(interrupting)

But –

 

HANNA M.

There’re no “buts” about it.  That’s the way it was.

I was there, and you weren’t.

 

HARRY M.

Every time we get together there’s a fight.  Why is that?  I’ll tell you why.  Because we all love Ireland, but each one of us thinks his love is the only real love.  That his own memories and his own suffering are the only ones worth a mention.  Well, we’re all wrong.  And we’re all right.  We all remember the soft rains and the green hills of Ireland – we all long for our lost homes.  But we’re still at each other’s throats.

 

HANNA M.

(impassioned)

The problem is, we don’t know how to talk to each other – or even to listen to each another.  The problem is, we’re powerless and we don’t know what we want.  The problem is, when we’re talking about the same thing, we’re not thinking about the same thing.  The problem is, every one of us thinks that everyone else is… the enemy. 

 

HARRY M.

All right then, that’s enough of that.  Hanna, my dearest, how are you keeping yourself?  We hardly ever see you –

 

CHRISTOPHER

We really should get together more often.

 


 

HANNA M.

No, we shouldn’t.  Bad enough I have to put up with myself, let alone listen to your bullshit.  You’d like to get together, sure – not because of me but for your own sakes.  You’d like to confide in me and to lecture me, ask me for advice, parade your ideas past me.  So what does that make me?  Your rubbish bin? 

 

MARY

That’s our Hanna – nothing cynical about her, is there.

 

JOHNNY

That’s enough.  Dear cousins, I’m so glad you came.  Please honor us again next year. 

And have a pleasant journey home!

 

AUNTIE SHEILA

Are you telling us to leave?

 

JOHNNY

Telling you?  Not at all.  Purely a suggestion.

 

MARY

You simpleton.

 

HANNA M.

Good night, good night, all!

 

The visitors take their leave, grumbling.  Only HANNA and JOHNNY are left.

 

HANNA M.

Tell me again:  You invited them… why?

 

JOHNNY

You know that mother and father would have wanted it. 

To gather the family, on one holiday at least.

 

HANNA M.

Family?  What are you talking about?  Out of all that lot, who do we have anything in common with?  Who do we feel close to, in any sense of the word?  And since when does “family” mean anything to you?  Jesus and Mary!

 


 

JOHNNY

Hanna, please.  I’m in a delicate situation,

and you know I’m not talking about you.

 

HANNA M.

So?

 

JOHNNY

So I don’t want us to be cut off completely –  from our homeland…

our past… our traditions.

 

HANNA M.

Well, so what?  Are we better off for surrounding ourselves with a

gaggle of odious people simply because they happen to be related to us?

 

JOHNNY

Let it go, Hanna.  I don’t want to argue with you.

Besides, there’s something else I want to tell you.

(he pauses)

You know about the movement.

You know I’m trying to help people in countries where there are wars…

 

HANNA M.

Yes.  What of it?

 

JOHNNY

Well, you know there’s a war in Bosnia…

 

HANNA M.

And?

 

JOHNNY

And… Well, people are leaving there and coming to America ...

 

HANNA M.

(with growing suspicion)

So?

 


 

JOHNNY

Well, there are some people, women actually, who came here.  One of them is named Hana Jov… Jovani… – something.  She hasn’t any family.  She’s a Muslim, and they’re the ones being hit the hardest over there, but her husband was a Serb.  They’re the ones doing all those terrible things.  According to her, he’s a decent fellow, but he’s still in Bosnia. 

 

HANNA M.

(turning her wheelchair toward the door)

Spit it out, right this instant, or I’m leaving.

 

JOHNNY

I brought her here.

 

HANNA M.

(astounded)

You did what?

 

JOHNNY

Hanna, please, listen to me.  She seems nice, and she seems lost.

She needs help.

 

HANNA M.

And you’re just the one to give it to her?

Is that it?

 

JOHNNY

Sure.  Why not?  Have you forgotten how it felt when we came here,

and what we came from?  If it hadn’t been for Patrick –

 

HANNA M.

(interrupting)

– never mind our own dear relatives –

 

JOHNNY

(continuing)

If it hadn’t been for Patrick, I don’t know what would have become of us. 

I could have turned my head away and said, It’s no concern of mine –

 


 

HANNA M.

(interrupting again)

As indeed it isn’t!

 

JOHNNY

(continuing)

But it is.  And yours, too.  Don’t pretend you don’t know what I mean. 

I know what you’re thinking, and in that way you’re a lot more hard-headed I am. 

You just want to –

 

HANNA M.

To what?  Make problems?

 

JOHNNY

Look, I don’t want to argue.  This is my house, too, and the woman is here.

Besides, I know you’ll like her, and it’ll help...

 

HANNA M.

Help what?  Your notion of yourself as a humanist on the grand scale?

Or will it ease your conscience and lighten the burden of having a sister like me?

 

JOHNNY

In truth, it’s all of that, and more.

I like the woman.

 

HANNA M.

Ah-hah!  And what is it you want from me?

 

JOHNNY

Just a little good will,.  Which I know you have.

(he pauses, then calls to someone offstage)

Hana!  Hana!

 

HANA J. enters, hesitantly. 

 

JOHNNY

Hana, I’d like you to meet my sister.

 


 

HANNA M.

(angrily)

Charmed, I’m sure!

 

She spins her wheelchair around and exits in a huff.

 

JOHNNY

Don’t mind her.  She doesn’t really mean it.

She’s just a bit taken by surprise.

 

HANA J.

(dubiously)

I hope that’s all it is…

 

                                                         END of Scene 2

 

 

Translated from the Bosnian by Colleen London

Revised and adapted for the American stage by H.B.J. Clifford

[1] [EDITOR’S NOTE:  Miriam Daly, a lecturer in economic and social history at Queen's University in Belfast, was a co-founder of the Irish Republican Socialist Party (IRSP).  She was murdered on June 26, 1980, in her home in Belfast, at the age of 51.  Noel Lyttle, another member of the IRSP, was shot dead on October 15, 1980, along with IRSP co-member Ronald Bunting, at Bunting’s home in Belfast.]