I live in Dublin, Ireland. Sometimes. Most times I live in my head, quite unaware of my surroundings – if you know what I mean… If you succeed in tracking Sean Walsh, please let me know, ok? I've been searching for him for years…
I was one of the Merchants’ Quay community, Dublin 8, and editor of Assisi, the monthly magazine of the Irish Franciscans. Another member of the community, Fr. Hugh Daly, was in charge of the FMU – the Franciscan Missionary Union with responsibility for St Anthony’s Hall, adjacent to the church. For much of the year it was a Bingo hall – a source of much needed funds for the foreign missions – but lay empty for the last days of Lent, Holy Week.
Knowing my interest in Drama – I had scripted and directed the Christmas pantomime while stationed in the Friary, Wexford – he put to me the idea of mounting a Passion play in St Anthony’s for Holy week. I declined: the few such scripts I knew of held little appeal for me.
“Well, then,” he said, “why not write your own?..”
Ah! Sin sceal eile!.. I rose to the challenge with gusto. Ideas and outlines I had filed away during my student years surfaced anew.
One storyline in particular centred on Veronica, the young woman who reputedly made her way through the crowds lining the way to Calvary and wiped the face of Jesus with a cloth. Did she exist?
Doubtful. Her very name – Vera from the Latin, Icon from the Greek – smacked of the fictitious. But popular devotion – and mankind’s basic urge to reach out to the Suffering Saviour, offer Him some gesture of solace, however inadequate – ensured that the legend of Veronica lives on to this day.
So… I placed her in the context of a family unit in Jerusalem at that time. Her mother, Ruth, a good living, hard working jewess; her father, Azarias, a cleric, legalist, member of the Sanhedrin; her brother, Misach, possessed, who speaks not a coherent word right the way through the drama until the very last finale; her suitor, Benjamin, an impulsive young man with leanings towards the zealots; and Sadoc, another member of the Sanhedrin who seeks to manipulate Azarias at an opportune moment…
Fiction! All fiction! Names culled from the Old Testament! But the ingredients were there – if not in place! – for a whopping good play! I knew it, sensed it… My instinct said, Go for it! So I did.
Over a long weekend I wrote reams! Once established, the characters assumed a life of their own. By Sunday night – or was it Monday night? – don’t ask me for times or dates, I cannot remember – I had finished. Or thought I had finished…
Though I didn’t know it at the time, I had written a first draft. A very good first draft, but still a draft. What did I know at that time about re-writes?!
When it came to writing the final sequence – Misach, the possessed one, suddenly errupts, a turrent of words spills from his twisted mouth – I was quite frightened! Shaken at the very ferocity of the words spewing from my pen unto blank paper!
– He speaks! But not with the voice of our son –
– We speak with many voices, we are many…
A few days later I delivered a typescript to Fr Hugh. He read it and was somewhat taken aback, I imagine, but nonetheless gave me the go ahead. I had a play that I just knew would work very well once mounted. I had been given a green light. Now I needed a production team!
Enter Larry Hogan, founder of We4, a group that had begun to make waves in the music world. I knew him very well, knew of his avid interest in cinema and film making. He and his young wife, Roisin, both natives of Limerick, were graduates of that city’s College of Art. (Indeed, I was there in a Church by the Shannon on their wedding day…)
Roisin would go on to become Head of the College of Art and Design in Dun Laoghaire; but for now she was happy to design the costumes for my play. Correction! Our play! For as the days passed the element of team work came into play more and more.
Meanwhile Lance – I always preferred to call him by his pet name – had read, devoured, the script. Did he want to direct it? I’ll say! And though he was quite lacking in experience – it would be his directorial debut – I had no hesitation in giving him my vote…
In turn, Roisin and Lance introduced me to another member of We4: Suzanne Murphy from Limerick who was destined to make a name for herself in the world of opera. A glorious voice, terrific stage presence – how could she fail? But a straight part in a drama?
Try me, she as much as said! Even at a first reading, I was bowled over! I had me a Ruth, I was beginning to relax!..
And there my memory fails me. Alas, I cannot name the other members of the cast; nor have I any way of checking. Posters, programmes, reviews..? Nothing comes to mind, nothing in the archives… They were all singularly excellent, amateurs who had walked into St Anthony’s hall off the street and auditioned successfully.
A word about the young man who played Misach night after night to such stunning effect. Shame that I cannot for the life of me remember his name. He was terrific! A truly memorable performance. Riveting… Several devils/evil spirits – several different voices. And he did it without benefit of special effects or gimmicks of any kind. Nameless One, I salute you!
The Opening Night. A good attendance. Minor, inevitable hiccups, that went unnoticed for the most part. Sustained applause – to which I made a generous contribution! – at the final curtain…