Clonakilty Arts Festival
(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.
They carry a double-sided mirror onto the stage, facing one another but admiring their own reflection. This continues until we hear a voiceover come on.)
(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, 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.
(Roaring in flashback)
Can you even spell UCD?!
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...or too excited...or too angry... 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
(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 makes a demonic sound. Her eyes rolling back in her head.)
...maybe a little demonic. Anyways, my point is, she treats everybody the same. Exact same. With
disdain. 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 her mother's 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 Trinity Scholar told her 'I find you kitsch.' And she
kind of patted him on the shoulder and said,
(VALERIE brusquely cuts across JOHN, elbowing him out of the way.)
"No thanks pet, I have already eaten and I find it hard to believe that you're a scholar when you can't even find the quiche. It's obviously on the trestle table in front of you. Dumbass.”
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 are a bit like a box of chocolates. You never know which one is going to make you sick. I guess, like, '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 relationships, it's built on 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 did you get here?
(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. Before Val came back from New York.
(Lights down on JOHN. Spotlight on VALERIE.)
It all changed in a flash. Not in an 'indecent exposure' kind of way, in a flash of light kind of way.
Fast, like. 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 crazy
though and shouldn't point fingers. Fingers are very easily bitten. Or broken. Like dreams."
(Sharp blackout. 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.)
(JOHN and VALERIE emerge, they are carrying invisible tennis rackets and wearing the tutu dress
that Serena Williams was wearing in the US Open. Not the exact one. But, similar ones.)
So I was on Facebook earlier and my so-called friends were spouting all sorts of random shite,
quoting Kanye West's latest tirade about the first amendment. 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.
You'll have to slow down for me there John, I was never great at fractions.
Right, you're more of a tan, cos and sine sort of girl.
John, you know I never tan. Cos I'm a red head. Read the signs.
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.
Ya, that's what I said.
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.
You mean our predecessors.
Actually I believe that the correct term for thinkers is itinerants.
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
But as Beyonce said, ‘who run the world, girls.”
(They look at one another and do a quick Single Ladies hand gesture.)
That woman is always relevant, no matter what context.
Anyway as Steve Jobs said, “Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world
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.)
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. Didn’t Pokemon say that?
Ah Ash-chylus Ketchum, of course. He was my fave pokemon. That cap.
(The pair stand at opposite sides of the stage, as though they are facing one another in a tennis
court. 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 vacantly.)
Material success is love.
(VALERIE mimes serving the ball, grunting once she has.)
As my good friend , 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, and to do more.”
(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, out of JOHN’s reach. She fist pumps signaling that she has won the
Dickens Valerie! DICKENS!
Sheesh John, no need to be so vulgar. Oscar Wilde was known for so much more than his promiscuity. He was a great writer.
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.”
(VALERIE mimes serving again.)
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. Maybe like...three times a week. Max.
Swiping your way to true love, is it? Grindr is so SHALLOW,
““Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind…”
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.)
But 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.
Ew. Tinder. Anybody could be gawking at you on that. And you gawking at everybody. You're such a filthy little 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 very real ground. It would be dangerous
if the theatre did not have a floor.)
No, your status was ‘Love few, trust no one, do wrong’
Same difference. Shakespeare was all about remixing words and reinterpreting their meaning. 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.)
Wow. Toll A has never said anything like that to me and I'm always on the M8. I must have been going to Toll B. Or maybe Toll C...possibly Toll D. That's the farthest I ever got in the alphabet.
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. And I don't even get to do those cute speeches like Serena Williams.
(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 say my musical comedy is very Nietzche. I always thought I was 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 seasons of Murder She Wrote and you think there’ll be
another season soon.
(VALERIE has won the match. She walks towards JOHN.)
(JOHN approaches her full on femme fatale and 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
(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 both jive offstage. SHARP BLACKOUT.)
(Sounds of planes and people bustling.
Could all of the newly arrived graduates please assemble at customs. Please assemble at customs.
(VALERIE is wearing sunglasses, rolling a suitcase and
brandishing two boarding passes. 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
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
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.)
(Thinking 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. 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 do 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. 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 Taoiseach. I refuse to bow down to the monarchy, like you.
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.
(BLACKOUT. Very obvious chance of location and time. The pair sit at a table, clinging to coffee cups.)
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 that nobody Johnathan Rhys
Meyers for no obvious reason.
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 came up with that all by myself. Give me some credit.
(Glares at JOHN.)
Ok, credit where credit is due.
No, seriously, give me credit. (brandishing her mobile phone) I ran out.
(She goes to take his wallet. He slaps her hand away.)
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.
It's like a domino effect of disaster from here on in.
Ah ya, the dominoes effect. I know it well. You think it's gonna be one pizza. Suddenly, your three pizzas in, you have the cholesterol of an eighty year old and you're dancing on a toilet.
(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
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.
I don't want to interact with anybody until I have good news.
I've been in contact with my book publisher. Trying to set the wheels in motion, you know. What
Loads, absolutely loads. 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.
I feel like you're just using me as a sounding board and you're not genuinely concerned for me as a
Maybe all of these sly digs are simply well aimed jabs of...love.
(Presses him on the nose affectionately, but somewhat patronizingly.)
Hmm...you really don't turn off, do you?
I really have to make more of a concerted effort to work through our issues and focus less on myself. Anyway, bye for now love.
(VALERIE leans in, JOHN is horrified and doesn’t believe what’s about to happen. She kisses him on
What the fuck was that?
John you’re supposed to turn and present your cheek. What am I supposed to do? Alter my
behavior? Why can't you be the one to change for once? Just like Gandhi said. Be more conscientious of others like me.
(Pauses in proud self-reflection. Suddenly frantic.)
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.
Valerie, you need to understand. You have completely destroyed my life. Because of you, I Iost 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...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.
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.')
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 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.