(Contributions to writing by Eoghan McQuinn and Thomas Andrew Quain.)
NOTIONS THE PLAY
(Elaborate 'Man in the Mirror' style opening where our two icons lavish themselves in attention, admiring themselves in the numerous mirrors between intermittent moonwalks and toe balances. Mirror choreography. This continues until an intercom interrupts and our characters freeze in position.)
(Sound of an airport intercom.)
“Can John Joyce and Valerie O' Brien please tell the us how they met. Once again, please tell us how they met.”
When I first clapped eyes on Valerie I expected her to be a mild mannered, introverted GAA type. However, after getting to know her, working part-time in WHSmith at Dublin Airport, I learned that the only thing well read about Valerie was her hair. She turned out to be an extremely unhinged extrovert-
(VALERIE bursts into wild laughter and begins devouring a sandwich.)
-prone to laughing maniacally whenever I spoke, punching me to the point of a dead arm in front of customers and she was an avid enthusiast of the sandwich meal deal staff discount.
(VALERIE steps out portraying a flashback.)
it's 100% off right?
(VALERIE carelessly discards of empty sandwich packet. Back to present.)
On the other hand my first impression of John was that he was of average intelligence but he meant well. My intuition proved to be correct.
(Music cuts completely. VALERIE’s portion of the stage goes into darkness. Spotlight on JOHN.)
Our very, very, very first encounter, I believe was at Freshers week in UCD. Though Valerie studied in DIT, she kind of did a tour of national freshers weeks. She fit right in, in fact I think she even accused a few people of crashing the event. That's her way, you know, stand out in order to fit in.
Do you even go here? I have never seen you before. (To the side.) I really haven't.
Draw so much attention to herself that nobody will question a thing.
(JOHN’s portion of the stage goes into darkness. Spotlight on VALERIE.)
I think we first met in a nightclub. John always goes full on femme fatale when he gets too drunk... I think I admired the way he carelessly guzzled back other people's drinks. Fearless. Like Joan Crawford with stubble.
(JOHN and VALERIE freeze in listening position. Back to voiceover.)
VOICEOVER (Airplane Intercom)
Please report what would you say is the most admirable quality of your best friend? Please report this immediately.
(Lights down, spotlight on JOHN)
Oh, easy. Though she would pride herself on being better than others, she rarely distinguishes between other people. Like, she wouldn't suck up to someone just because they were wealthy or high up on the social ladder or her employer or whatever... Probably because she considers herself to be hovering high above that ladder. Like levitating. But not in a demonic way...
(VALERIE snorts and laughs at the same time, slowly curling her hand on a nearby chair. John visibly shudders.)
...maybe a little demonic. Anyways, my point is, she treats everybody the same.
She's ALL about equality.
Even, at UCD Freshers week, I could see that was the case. She was kind of hovering through the room. Audaciously wearing a wedding dress to the event did help her to achieve that levitating quality she goes for. Five meter trail.
So, kind of like a ghost or ghoul, she would only acknowledge somebody if they approached her.
And she wouldn't filter herself depending on the audience either. No censorship. It didn't matter whether they were the dean of the college, a plus one or a lowly undergrad, she would treat them all to her rapier wit.
At one stage, I think a UCD Scholar told her 'I find you kitsch.' And she said,
(VALERIE brusquely cuts across JOHN, elbowing him out of the way.)
"I find it hard to believe that you're a scholar when you can't even find the quiche. It's obviously on the table in front of you. Mental.”
(VALERIE breaks into raucous laughter.)
Then! It was, at that exact moment, that I knew she was my soulmate.
(Lights down on JOHN. Spotlight on VALERIE.)
Ahhh. John's traits kind of like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get sick from.
'Quality Street' to be precise.
The contents are colorful and often disappointing. But when you do land that rare strawberry flavor, it does cover the aftertaste of that coffee flavored bile he force-fed you quite...OK-ily. I think sometimes the things I admire most about him, require good lighting. Like a good facebook profiler, the filter changes everything. Like all good things in life, it's built on a thin veneer of deceit.
(Characters freeze in listening position. Airport intercom voice returns.)
VOICEOVER (Airport intercom)
Can the passengers of this flight of fantasy please tell us, how did you get here? Yes, once
again, that's, how the fuck did you get here?
(Characters sit down and strap themselves in to invisible airplane seats, preparing to takeoff. Lights down on VALERIE. Spotlight on JOHN.)
I dunno, how did any of us get here? Sheer misfortune. My life used to be so different. I guess a number of choices, odd decisions caused a domino effect that landed me here. At home. Alone. Like Macauley Culkin. Pre-drug addiction. But teetering on the edge.
Valerie was like, the person who forgot all about me but simultaneously she was also the people who tried to break into my house, rob me and bite off my fingers. She also had a gold tooth like Joe Pesci.
Anyways. Things were so different a year ago.
(Lights down on JOHN. Spotlight on VALERIE.)
It all changed with a flash. Not in an 'indecent exposure' kind of way, in a flash of light kind of way.
That's life I guess. It's hard to pinpoint where exactly it all spiraled out of control. Some
might say it was when I re-entered John's life after graduating. Those people are crazythough and shouldn't point fingers. Fingers are very easily bitten. Or broken. Like dreams.
(VALERIE and JOHN, motion taking off in the plane and fly to the next scene. Kaleidoscope of colorful lights dance across the stage, causing interesting things to happen with the mirrors. As the lights flash on and off, our heroes take up a number of stark poses like a tribute to Vogue. Eventually the lights simmer down.)
Scene One: PHILOSOPHY TENNIS
(JOHN and VALERIE emerge, they are carrying tennis rackets and wearing the tutu dress
that Serena Williams was wearing in the US Open. Not the exact one. But, similar ones. They station themselves at opposite sides of the stage and begin stretching.)
So I was on Facebook earlier and my so-called friends were spouting all sorts of random shite, quoting Kanye West's latest tirade. I mean, how can they be so gullible as to become distracted by the celebrity smokescreen, those megalomaniac imbeciles playing to the lowest common denominator.
God I hate fractions.
Right, you're more of a sine, cos and tan sort of girl.
Yeah, I do love fake tan.
Right. It's just this constant need for transient validation that never ceases to amaze me.
Ya, people will share anything with everybody these days. Trying to go venereal.
People are so vacuous, they don’t think for themselves anymore.
Ya, but the idea of not thinking for yourself has been encouraged for centuries John. It’s hard to forge your own way in life, and I find often the best way to survive is to follow the instruction of the great thinkers of the past. Back when there were great thinkers.
Right, by great thinkers, you mean our predecessors.
Thinkers, predecessors, wizards. They have many names.
If you’re not happy with your peers John you should do something about it. As Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see in the world”
Yes but to quote Tolstoy "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing HIMSELF."
True, then why not follow Steve Jobs, he said, “Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world usually do.”
Yeah but you also need to be a greedy sociopath in order to copy him.
(The pair look at each other mischievously as though they have come to realize their suitability.)
You had me at sociopath.
(They high five and immediately begin stretching more aggressively.)
You change in order to be the best, “His resolve is not to seem, but to be, the best.”
The best. The best. The very best? Like no one ever was. Pokemon right?
Ah Ash-chylus Ketchum, of course. You got to catch 'em all. Another mantra to live by.
(Valerie mimes bouncing a ball on an invisible racket. John adjusts his visor.)
Tennis has always been my favorite sport because even when you have absolutely nothing, you still have love.
Whereas in real life when you have nothing, everybody just abandons you.
(VALERIE smiles. It slowly dawns on her that this is not a good thing. She is momentarily upset, then regroups and says harshly.)
Material success is love.
(VALERIE mimes violently serving the ball, grunting once she has.)
As my man crush of the month , Oscar Wilde said,
(JOHN volleys the ball back. He puts on a posh accent.)
“Our ambition should be to rule ourselves, the true kingdom for each one of us; and true progress is to know more...
-and be more!
(Whacking the ball out of Valerie's reach.)
-and to do more!!”
(Retrieves ball. Initially emulates accent but eventually breaks into falsetto.)
“Please sir can I have some more?”
Oliver Twist is my favorite Oscar Wilde play.
(Whacks ball back across court.)
(Tennis ball hits John in the balls. He grabs his crotch in agony.)
Dickens Valerie! DICKENS!
(VALERIE notes his crotch grabbing.)
Sheesh John, no need to be so sexual. Oscar Wilde was known for so much more than his promiscuity. He was also a great writer.
(Nods towards audience.)
Anyway this is a family show. For families with no children and a propensity for crass humor.
I learned all I know about ambition from Theodore Roosevelt,
“It is true... of the individual, that the greatest doer must also be a great dreamer.”
(John casually serves the ball.)
Well, I do sleep a lot.
(JOHN roars once he hits the ball.)
Ya but always sleeping alone. With your wine. Alone Crawford.
(VALERIE volleys back.)
Yes, Valerie but I am waiting for true love.
(JOHN chips the ball over VALERIE and despite her best efforts it defeats her.)
Is that why you’re always on grindr?
(JOHN hits the ball aggressively.)
Grindr is a highly revered platform. Revered by daddies.
My dad hates it. He is barely ever on it. Like...twice a day. Max.
Swiping your way to true love, is it? Grindr is so SHALLOW,
““Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind…”
(John volleys back.)
Swiping? That's Tinder, Val. And you're a Tinder-ella if ever I saw one.
(VALERIE inhales sharply and lets out an almighty roar as she pummels the ball across the court. JOHN does not stand a chance.)
Tinderella? No way. I stay out well after midnight and you know I never wear shoes. They're so restrictive. If humans were supposed to wear shoes why would they have so many layers of hair on their feet?
I don't have hair on my feet.
Ya, neither do I. Drop it.
(Refocuses the disgust to be on John.)
Ew. Tinder. Anybody could be gawking at you on that. And you gawking at everybody. You're such a whore.
(JOHN pirhouettes violently and falls over dramatically.)
Nothing wrong with lots of love. Shakespeare said “Love ALL, trust a few, do wrong to none.”
(VALERIE catches ball, thrown to her by imaginary ballboy.)
Jesus, I’m practically a playwright. That was my facebook status last night.
(Pretends to bounce imaginary ball with imaginary racket off ground.)
No, your status was ‘Love few, trust no one, do wrong’
Same difference. Shakespeare was all about twisting words to suit himself. Olivier, here I come.
(Does a little victory dance. Jiving.)
It's the Olivier Twist! Please sir, can I get some more? Gimme gimme more. Gimme more. Gimme more. It's Kafka bitch.
(JOHN is solemn-faced.)
I know it will catch on eventually.
(VALERIE regains composure. She serves balletically. Suddenly solemn.)
Sometimes, it just appears like we are on this uncertain path that has been pre-decided by all of our actions since we were children. Sometimes, I would love to just erase everything and start over.
Well as Tolle says “The past has no power over the present moment.”
(JOHN lightly hits ball back.)
What? Toll A never said anything like that to me and I'm always on the M8. I must have been going to Toll B.
Valerie, you’re incoherent.
(Volleys ball back.)
I’m fucking wrecked John. I have been playing philosophy tennis for hours. The only thing more tiring than playing tennis is watching it.
(Collapses into her next strike of the ball, which defeats JOHN. Both JOHN and VALERIE collapse.)
“When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.”
(Once again catching imaginary ball.)
People always describe this comedy as very niche-ey. I always considered it more Aristotle-ey...
"When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago."
(Heaves herself to her feet.)
I guess I can relate...
Like when I stay up after midnight and drink too much alka-seltzer and I start to think there's been an apocalypse and I’m the only talented person left on Earth?
(Barely standing up before VALERIE serves the ball.)
Exactly like that.
(JOHN comedically misses the ball and falls over.)
Or like when you binge watch all of the episodes of Feud and you think there’ll be
another season soon.
(VALERIE has won the match. She walks towards JOHN.)
(JOHN gasps dramatically, does a Bette Davis style double take and approaches her full on femme fatale. He begins to shake her violently. VALERIE dramatically rocks back and forth.)
No Valerie, nothing like that. That’s a FACT, not an idea. How dare you! A FACT, you hear me?
(Both regain composure. JOHN is suddenly sentimental.)
Ultimately, Valerie “It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”
(He pauses creating a lovely poignant moment. Just as the sentimentality begins to kick in, VALERIE interrupts.)
(Half roaring, half singing)
I'm a dreamer dun-dun-dun-dun.
(Starts jiving a little bit. This time JOHN begins to jive also and beatbox.)
I knew it would catch on eventually. Gimme gimme more.
(They get the audience to join in and both jive offstage. SFX of planes and people bustling.)
SCENE TWO: WERK
Could all of the newly arrived graduates please assemble at customs. Please assemble at customs.
(VALERIE enters wearing sunglasses and an ascot, rolling a suitcase and brandishing two boarding passes. She excitedly paces the stage for fifteen seconds. The audience is wondering where she is going. JOHN enters, looking sad.)
(Depressively, eyes on the floor.)
Oh my God Valerie. I really didn’t see myself working full time at WH Smith an entire year after we graduated.
Ya, well, I really didn’t see myself in the mirror this morning because if I had I would have seen the lipstick ALL over my teeth.
Equally pressing. (Looks at her, confused by what he sees.) Why are you carrying a suitcase?
Change of outfit at lunchtime. I won’t be caught dead at lunch wearing anything less than massively glamorous. You know that the airport is a hive of activity for celebs.
Minor celebrities Valerie you whacko. So minor that they have to introduce themselves to you.
Several times. Without you asking. Sometimes even after you ask them not to...Valerie, are they boarding passes?!
Yup, the Manager said we needed to scan them. Have you not been doing that? It gives the
customer a discount. You could be fired for not doing that.
(JOHN snatches them from her.)
Yes, Valerie but you are not supposed to RETAIN them. Oh my God these are for Honolulu. You are supposed to give them back!
(JOHN runs away with the two boarding passes in an attempt to salvage the situation.)
(Noting to herself.)
Don't keep Honolulu boarding passes. Not the ones for Honolulu.
(Taps her temple as though injecting herself with memory. Sharp blackout. Cut to later. VALERIE is manning the self service tills in a Nurse Ratched-esque manner, glaring at customers and picking up random items to inspect them, sometimes sampling the drinks and sandwiches saying it's a mandatory inventory check for the audit of the store. JOHN’s character walks in, in disguise.)
If I didn’t know any better I could swear you were Jonathan Rhys Meyers but I’m sure he has been banned from airports worldwide indefinitely.
You don't know better because they lifted that ban at the start of this year.
Oh my God...Oh my God. I’m a huge fan. What’s that adorable saying that Brenda Fricker came up with? If you win an Oscar, you’re British but if you are drunk in the airport, you’re Irish...
BUT if you win an Oscar for being drunk in the airport, you’re Jonathan Rhys Meyers!
(VALERIE bellows with laughter, JONATHAN is unimpressed. VALERIE smiles awkwardly.)
Because nobody knows if you're British or Irish. That was the point of that joke. Nothing to do with alcoholism. I wouldn't stoop that low.
Boarding card please
(JONATHAN hands it over. VALERIE looks at it. Tapping herself on the temple.)
(VALERIE scans it, tears it up and throws it in the bin.)
What are you doing?! How dare you! That's my boarding card.
We have to dispose of them responsibly, using a recycling bin. We can't trust customers to be so environmentally conscious.
Or, in your case, conscious at all. Now that was a joke about your alcoholism. (Makes a handclaw gesture.) She stoops to conquer.
But I won't be able to board my plane!
I guess not. You shouldn't be traveling by planes anyway, you're just exasperating global warming.
You're exasperating me! I MUST GET ON THAT PLANE! I SIMPLY MUST.
Oh Jonathan, ever the drama queen. Or...I guess...drama President. I refuse to bow down to the monarchy, like you, you traitor.
I am reporting this to your Manager. You and that ginger boy lurking in the darkness who has been laughing at me throughout this entire sordid experience.
(VALERIE looks behind herself, mimes seeing John, gasps and jumps in fright.)
Ya...he really has to stop doing that.
(The pair move downstage and sit at a table, clinging to coffee cups. Their altered posture and state signal the passage of time.)
SCENE THREE: BRUNCH
So...how’ve YOU been?
Do you always have to be this confrontational? Jesus.
It’s a simple question, John.
What have you been up to since we were heartlessly fired due to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?
Valerie, if I have told you once, I have told you a million times, Voldemort was played by Ralph Fiennes, not Johnathan Rhys Meyers.
Oh whatever potato, potatto, if we have any potatoes left at all because of them two.
Anyway, what have you been doing with yourself?
Sleeping. Eating. Scrolling and scrolling all day...
(JOHN takes a sip of his coffee.)
Oh god John, you’ve gone to the dark side again, haven’t you?
As Socrates says ‘Beware the barrenness of a busy life.’ I couldn't bare being barren. Much safer to stay at home and do nothing.
John, you're always underestimating yourself.
“Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion!”
No that wasn’t my roomie. I don't have any roomies. I live with my parents or 'The Others' as they have come to be known. I came up with that all by myself.
Seriously though, state of you. Have you applied for any jobs since the airport debacle?
(Burns tongue. With a lisp.)
I’m just living my truth okay?
Is that what they call the social welfare in Swords? Have you been looking for a job even?
I have, but I mean, it’s depressing. I’ve basically gone from college to retirement.
That’s the way it goes now, Valerie.
We are economically unnecessary.
You need to pull yourself together and put yourself out there John.
(Shudders at VALERIE's stupidity.)
Actually I do have an audition this afternoon. It’s for a commercial.
And they’re looking for a young, attractive, guy.
But you’re auditioning still?
Are there other roles?
I just think people in medieval times had the right idea, you know?
Live fast, die young. Or in my case...live slow, die eventually.
What about friends, John? You must be hanging off someone.
You know, people won’t leave me the fuck alone. It’s like,
"No, I don’t want to catch up with you because there’s nothing to say."
And if I do actually meet them it’s like they’re putting me under a fucking microscope
trying to expose my flaws.
That’s ridiculous. We both know you don’t have many flaws.
And the ones you do have are so obvious that you don’t need a microscope to see them.
It's actually difficult not to see them.
I don't want to interact with anybody until I have good news.
And, I'm trying.
I've been in contact with my book publisher. Trying to set the wheels in motion, you know.
What about you?
Loads, absolutely loads. But I don't appreciate being interrogated about it.
I don’t go around blabbing about my prospects before I actually succeed, like some people.
Anyway don’t be a stranger. Give me a call if there’s ever a problem. I won't answer but I'll think about it and it's the thought that counts.
Never change, changing...always change and adapt to suit other people. Don’t isolate yourself or others. People will call the police, you don’t want a criminal record. That's the last thing you need. That would be the straw that broke the camel's barren back.
Sometimes I feel like you're just using me as a sounding board and you're not genuinely concerned for me as a friend. Like you'r not really listen-
Seriously though. I’ve got to get out of my family home. I swear. My
parents are timing my showers...and you know I don’t take many showers John.
(VALERIE grotesquely begins licking the inside of her coffee cup.)
Yeah cos it’s bad for the environment.
The environment? Oh ya...that...I love all that.
(Flings empty coffee cup onto floor.)
Jesus Christ, it’s like being in a convent John.
Except worse, cos there’s men. You
know I don’t like men, John.
But I’m a man.
John, you’re the femininity my mother wishes I was born with. Here, I can’t talk all day. I know you’ve all day but I’ve got an agenda. I’ve got...I think some crab fishing’s going on down on the beach later and I’ve always wanted to try it. I know I’ll excel. Microsoft Excel.
Valerie, you need to understand. You have completely destroyed my life. Because of you, I lost my job. Because of you I never walk too far from the sidewalk. Because of you, I find it hard to trust not only me, but everyone around me. Because of you. I am afraid.
Because of you.
Oh please. A little fear never killed nobody. Or is that...a little party never killed nobody...meh. Maybe fear does kill. We're all a little dead inside...Anyways, I'm more like a catalyst than a cause. You needed a shake. You should be thanking me for exposing myself to you.
Valerie you really need to stop doing that at parties and shouting "It all changed with a flash."
Maybe that's our problem. Too many parties.
Not enough books.
Too many acquaintances.
Not enough friends.
Too many shops.
Not enough TIME!
(Cue music for 'We're really shallow now.')
(VALERIE singing to herself in the mirror, in awe.)
Tell me something girl,
Where'd you get those perfect auburn curls?
(Free) Sampling at the store,
Spilling with delight on aisle four
Wet floor signs ain't what they used to be, are they?
I'm gonna sue. Say I hit my head
(John begins crooning with a corona in hand.)
Tell me something boy,
Will you put your hands up for Detroit?
Evacuate dance floor,
Paying rent that I can't afford
Crowdsurfing's hard, I find myself,
And in the Band Stand,,
I can't hear myself
Watch as we try hard
We're gonna crash and burn
Skimming the surface
Truth only hurts us
We're both pretty shallow now
(VALERIE and JOHN join hands and begin spinning one another.(
But what goes up, must come down.
Could the passengers of this flight of fantasy please take their seats immediately as we are preparing for a crash landing. Once again, please take your seats and strap yourselves in tight. We would encourage you to don your Oxygen masks too but we boycotted Oxygen this year and went to Glastonbury instead. Take your seattttts-
(JOHN and VALERIE strap themselves into their seats, swaying dangeroulsy from side to side. The lights flicker on and off and there's a loud crashing sound followed by a blackout.)
SCENE FOUR: FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS
(Sounds of radio coming into and out of signal. It is the sound of Irish politicians delivering the annual budget speech. VALERIE and JOHN are huddled around the radio, often holding their palms out as though getting heat from it like a fire. They look extremely ragged and wear airplane blankets for warmth.)
No shame in availing of what you're entitled to.
We are in a bad way John.
Thank God for friends.
Well (signalling towards the radio) Thank God for benefits.
Yes friends and benefits are our only means of survival.
No shame in friends with benefits.
I wish they would talk more about HAP. It's been all about the VAT increase so far. We get it. VAT is hot this year.
Valerie is a professionally trained writer. She specialized in Advanced Writing at Trinity College, Dublin and achieved a 1.1. She has had work produced/presented with Tribeca Performing Arts Centre, The Galway Fringe Festival, The Dionysian Literary Journal, The Venus Adonis Festival, DU Shakespeare Festival and DU Players. She recently completed writing Series One of NOTIONS.