A PLAY IN ONE ACT
By Mary Devenport O’Neill
TIME AND PLACE
The action of this play is supposed to take place a few years after the expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
The scene should suggest noonday with stillness and strong sunlight. On one or both sides there should seem to be rocks or rocky cliffs among which the echoes sit.
PERSONS IN THE PLAY
ADAM – Adam is big, fairhaired and loosely built. He wears a short tunic of large overlapping leaves.
EVE – is slight, dark and subtle looking. She also wears a tunic of leaves and a twist of creeper plant on her to keep from the sun.
CAIN – Cain is tall slight and dark. He too wears a tunic of large leaves. He looks about twenty years old.
ABEL – Abel is younger than Cain and not so tall. He is slight and golden haired. Instead of the tunic with leaves he wears a lambskin, and carries a reed pipe in his hand.
DEATH – Death is a young woman dressed in a tight skin-fitting garment of cold silver. The slippers on her feet are of cold silver also; the close fitting covering of her head. Over her silver garment she has a transparent moth-coloured veil or scarf wrapped many times round her. She looks like an illusion or a trick of light.
The wrapping and unwrapping of the veil is an important part of the dance, but all through the play her face remains heavily veiled.
ECHOES – Young men and women dressed in grey-blue, the colour of the rocks, and almost undistinguishable from them. They speak the lines for the dancers if the dancers don’t wish to spek, or they catch up the dancers’ words and repeat them.
(A low murmur of music is heard. ADAM and EVE come in from the left. They are carrying large bundles of heather for bedding. They walk, speak and make all their movements to music).
EVE: Here is cool shade.
Let’s sit for a while and rest.
(She puts down her bundle right in front of the stage close to the footlights and sits down leaning against it).
ADAM: We two are always pleased to rest.
(He puts down his bundle and sits down leaning against it, close to the footlights facing EVE).
EVE: No wonder if that’s true
When even our children trained to work
Grow lazy in the sultry noon.
ADAM: They’re most extremely different our two sons
Abel is young and gay,
But Cain is strange.
EVE: Abel was a child when we left Eden,
But Cain was old enough to hear the tale
Of Death whom we shall meet one day,
And for whose sake we shall forsake the sky.
(CAIN rushes in from the Right and looks round as if searching for something. He carries a shallow basket made of rushes in which he has gathered roots and berries).
ADAM: Aye, there he goes
As always following after what seems nothing,
Or only perhaps the shadow of a bird
And talking to the white transparent air,
Abel I understand, but Cain is strange.
(CAIN goes out to the right).
EVE: Abel’s your very likeness, you and he
You love all small things and all separately,
Each only for itself.
Cain and I
Love things but do not rest in them:
We wander feeling something still may lie
Even beyond perfection.
ADAM: Aye true, and find the snake.
EVE: We risk the snake.
(DEATH comes in from the right and runs across the stage. CAIN rushes in following DEATH. The roots and berries in his basket fall and roll away but he takes no heed. They dance. CAIN persuing DEATH).
ADAM: What is Cain following now
Intently with his arms stretched out?
EVE: Something that spins and drifts
And turns like the wind
And hovers idly like a dragon fly
And springs away like a linnet in the air
(DEATH goes out at the right).
CAIN: Wait, wait, where are you Death?
You have escaped me
I saw you now between me and the sky
Brighter and darker than the plain day light.
ADAM: Cain speaks. What is’t he says
I cannot hear him.
EVE: The little echoes sitting in the rocks
Take up his words and toss them
We must attend and catch them as they pass
There ‘tis again.
(DEATH comes in at the right).
ADAM: It’s shape is like a woman,
But made of cloud
That lets the brightness of the sun shine through.
(CAIN comes in following DEATH).
EVE: That’s not the sun, but the chill, icy light.
ADAM: Cain follows her,
But she evades his hands.
CAIN: Wait, Death, stand still for a moment,
Let me see you straight.
EVE: She stands and dances like a spring of water
Straight upwards in one place.
ADAM: And Cain in front of her
Trembles as if his skin was cold.
CAIN: (Coming closer to Death): Your form I see, half see,
And do not see.
Your face I cannot see.,
Your face is hidden.
DEATH: Do you know what one must pay
To see my face?
CAIN: The sky, they told me,
And the wind and the air.
DEATH: Would you barter these?
CAIN: I want to barter them;
They waste themselves on me;
They offer joy to me
That I cannot hold;
I’m loaded up with one enormous thought –
How fair and strange a face must be
That costs the sunlight and the air.
I’ll give them all, Death,
Let me see your face.
EVE: Again she runs, again Cain follows her,
Again they spin and turn and whirl and spring.
ADAM: Ha, Cain has caught her
By one of her little floating shreds of cloud
What is’t he holds?
But, no, she’s loose again.
DEATH: No, no, not yet;
Cain, Cain, I am afraid;
I’m still so young;
At times I sense the weight of my great future,
I strive to hold it off from me for awhile.
(A long note from a reed is heard).
What’s that? Who’s this that comes?
(Abel comes in from the left).
CAIN: My brother Abel and his shepherd’s pipe;
He blows a note, and all his flocks
Must wander in the radius of that sound.
DEATH: Your brother Abel, has he heard of me?
CAIN: He has heard, but has not heeded.
DEATH: Does he not also ache to see my face?
CAIN: My brother Abel has no ache, his joy
Is round and contained as an apple in its skin.
ADAM: She moves toward Abel.
EVE: And she steps as soft
As if her feet were whispering to the ground.
ADAM: She is close beside him now
What is she doing?
DEATH (Stands over Abel): Your brother Abel, Cain,
I’d like to draw my veil across his face,
(DEATH draws the end of her veil across ABEL’s face. ABEL brushes his face with his hand).
He only thinks a moth has flown too close.
Passing, and flicked him with its wings.
EVE: She stoops above Abel,
As a moth stoops above a broom in flower.
DEATH: I’ll come between him and the sun,
I’ll let my shadow lie across his eyes.
(Death lets her shadow fall on Abel’s face).
His arm grows lax;
His flute drops by his side;
I’ve made a dusk for him,
And he falls asleep –
EVE: She looks from Cain to Abel and Abel to Cain
As if she measured them,
While she hovers round Abel like a giant moth.
ADAM: She’s changing now, she moves towards Cain
With that waving motion I have cause to hate
The rhythm of the undulating snake.
DEATH: Cain, tell me who’s stronger,
You or He?
CAIN: I do not know;
Our work is different,
And only when a task’s too great for one,
The other, or our father, Adam, helps.
DEATH: You’ve never had a contest strength for strength.
CAIN: When we were children,
When we played,
DEATH: Cain, I must know,
This moment I must know
Which is the stronger
You must try him now.
CAIN: Try him?
Why must I try?
DEATH: For me, for me, because I pine to know.
CAIN: Then show your face,
I pine to see your face.
DEATH: When you have tried your strength
When it is proved
Beyond one flicker of a doubt
Who is the stronger,
I will show my face.
CAIN: Then I’m the stronger, Death,
I feel it now.
I am the strongest thing in the whole world;
I’ll tear wild beasts,
I’ll overcome the thunder,
I’ll wrench great trees,
I’ll terrify the sea.
Death, let me show you all.
DEATH: Quiet, ‘tis your brother’s strength that you must try
Here, now, at once
When the fight is over I will show my face.
ADAM: Cain seizes Abel.
Abel’s half asleep,
Cain’s acting strangely
I am troubled Eve.
They twine their arms and legs
They bend each other’s bodies to the ground
They fight like dreadful beasts out of the woods.
EVE: And she with pointed feet above the ground
Makes a ring around them with maddened dance.
DEATH: More, more of this, more, more
ECHOES: More, more; more, more
EVE: Her dancing becomes faster and more wild
Her simmering body spreads great cloudy wings.
(Death spreads out her veil).
DEATH: More, more. I have an appetite that grows,
More, more of this.
ECHOES: More, more; more, more.
ADAM: See, Cain has lifted Abel off his feet.
He swings him round
He strikes the ground with him,
What has he done to him?
What is it Eve?
(Adam and EVE crouch together terrified – Eve seems to be holding Adam back).
Eve: They both are moveless
Abel on the ground
And Cain against the sky.
ADAM: The woman’s calm,
She moving towards Abel
And hovering like an evil hungry bird.
(Death sinks on the ground beside Abel. Her scarf is spread, she slowly bends her face towards Abel’s).
DEATH: Abel shadow your eyes,
Cast out the light,
Press back the world
And turn to me alone.
The first of all mankind to see my face.
(Death lifts the part of her veil which covers her face and lets it fall again over Abel’s head so that his face and her’s are both together covered with it. When this happens a scream is heard, a scream of horror but an impersonal scream, the scream of life meeting death. Adam and Eve terrified fall prostrate on their faces. Death and Abel covered with the veil of Death look like a heap of ashes. Cain stands motionless against the sky).
THE CURTAIN FALLS.