Usually the first
question I am asked about is why I split it into what is very nearly two plays.
The answer is that I decided this was the simplest and best way of passing on
what I wished to say about the Cassidys.
In a traditionally constructed play, the adults would have occupied the centre
of the action while the boys would have been relegated to a less important
Certainly it would have been necessary for Joe to play more of a part in the
action concerning his parents and uncles and this would have raised a number of
problems. Aggie refers to other people living in the house, Joe’s brothers and
sisters. If Joe was involved in the house action why not them also?
The demands of strict realism would, in my opinion, have bogged the action down
with trivial comings and goings and made it necessary for me to invent reasons
why people had to leave the room so that other people could play a scene
By cutting what would have been a sub-plot adrift from the major action I have
given it an almost equal importance, as well as freeing both plays from the
restrictions I mention above. After all, the audience knows it is not watching
real life. It is watching a selection of events based on reality, written down
and presented by actors as an entertainment.
There is a story concerning a man who one day walked into the studio of the
painter Pablo Picasso and boldly announced he did not like the artist’s works
because they were not realistic enough. Sometime later in his visit he showed
Picasso a photograph of a woman. ‘This is my wife’, he said; and Picasso
replied, ‘She’s a very small, flat, black and white person, isn’t she?’
As far as the arts are concerned, reality is only what a certain group of
people at a certain point in time agree will be allowed to represent reality.
Whereas the characters in
A Hard God
seem to be real and so do
the encounters between them, the form of the play tends towards
A study of the first act will reveal that the three scenes involving the adults
take place over a single evening while the three scenes involving the boys take
place over a period of weeks: swiftly-moving time intersects normal time. This
is another break with realism, yet I believe I have successfully twisted the
rules to suit the needs of my particular purpose.
Next, people are usually curious to know about the relationship between Jack
and Joe. They want to know exactly what happens between them physically.
What happens is exactly what Joe says happens: they sleep together in the same
bed with their arms about each other. The trouble between them springs from
their different sexual orientation. Jack is heterosexual, Joe homosexual. In
the pre-pill Forties, when practically any form of intimacy between boys and
girls was frowned on by their parents and elders, when it was almost necessary
for a girl to marry a virgin, or, at least, have had sexual relations only with
the man she was marrying, Jack carries an urgent need for sexual gratification
about with him.
He responds to what he sees as feminine elements in Joe’s nature: his extreme
modesty, his quick condemnation of sexual crudeness, his sensitivity in
understanding what Jack has been through with his family. Jack teases him as he
would a girl, misbehaving to provoke a shocked response, finally developing a
sexual attraction for Joe. But it is an attraction for a sexual substitute. As
soon as he is allowed to develop a fulfilling relationship with a girl, all
thoughts of Joe as a sex object will disappear.
Joe is a naive homosexual. He falls deeply in love with Jack but, as yet, sex
plays only a small part in his feelings for other men. It is an emotional
security he craves. When he tells Jack he did not wish for a physical contact
beyond lying beside him at Woy Woy he is speaking the truth and when this is
branded a sin, he is outraged. It was, after all, Jack who hoped for sexual
gratification and it is he who is warned by the priest in the confessional to
stay away from Joe because he is a bad influence.
Both the boys are trapped in a difficult and painful situation and, considering
what they are, there is really no solution beyond parting.
Finally, I am often asked what gave me the idea for the play. Actually, it was
never just an idea. The bones of the work had been with me all my life, growing
with my own bones.
A Hard God
is based upon events involving my family and myself.
These events have been altered and condensed, but, overall, I believe I have
managed to retain the feeling of what it was like to be an Irish-Australian
Catholic in the 1940s.
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