"The Proposal"
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"The Proposal"

 

 

 

An Original Play by:
Charles Lewis

 

 

 

St. Ambrose University
June 29, 2001

 

 

Note: The Author retains all rights. However, permission is granted for use as a reading source in conjunction with this teaching unit. For permission to produce the play, contact  lewisce@aol.com.

 


Reading : The Proposal

 

The story of a Famine Irish family's coming to America .

 

Cast

Maurice Daughton–a hard-working man in his prime about age twenty-eight. Maurice has tired of being a bachelor and is amenable to suggestions.

Dennis Mullin–a lively youth about age sixteen.

The Widow Mullin–a lovely woman about age forty.

The Matchmaker–an older man with a desire for drink.

Ellen Mullin–Dennis' younger sister and a miniature version of her mother about age fourteen.

Patrick Mullin–Dennis' younger brother about age fifteen.

 

Prologue

 

The curtain is down. No one is seen on stage. A single light comes up on an Irish flag (proscenium stage-left). Two female voices can be heard. The first is a younger girl with an Iowa (Midwestern, nondescript) accent. The second is an older woman with a recognizable Irish accent.

 

Granddaughter:  Grandma, you know we've been studying immigration in my Iowa history class. And, my teacher wants us to do a report about our families. Tell me how we came to be in Iowa .

Grandmother (laughing):  You came to be here from your parents.

Granddaughter:  No, Grandma. I mean, "How did you come to be in Iowa ?"

Grandmother:  It's not the how but the why. Child, after living all of your life around me, you really don't know? Oh, well. Gather up yourself and settle in. Our story is the same as the other millions of Irish who came to America and different at the same time. You see. . . .

 

Scene:  The action takes place in a typical Irish pub and at the Mullin home. The stage is divided into three sections. Stage-right is the local pub; stage-center is the exterior of the Mullin Home; and stage-left is the interior of the Mullin home, complete with hearth and table.

The period is about 1840 Ireland . Times are good; there is an ongoing population boom; but despite record harvests, the sale of crops to generate cash to pay rent has left the majority of Irish people dependent on potatoes as their food staple.

 

The Mullin Family has suffered the loss of their oldest daughter and the father, Dennis Mullin, Sr. Despite everything, the family has survived; and the oldest son, Dennis Mullin, has started work to replace the income that his father had previously brought home.

 

Act I

 

Scene I:  An Irish melody is heard, played upon a fiddle. A fire is heard or seen and the atmosphere is homey. In fact, the pub serves as Maurice's home away from home.

Curtain rises. Lights come up stage-right. Before us is the pub. A few hard-working men are seen drinking. A cute barmaid is serving drinks. Maurice and Dennis are seated at a table (downstage-right) after a hard day's work. You get the sense that Maurice has taken Dennis under his wing and is treating him as if he was a younger brother.

Maurice speaking to Dennis.

 

Maurice:  Aye, Laddie. 'Twas a good day's work today.

Dennis:  I never knew a day could be so long.

Maurice (Kidding):  It's tough going to work as a man to support your family. You, being such a tender age and all.

Dennis:  I'm not that tender! I can fight with the best of them.

Dennis and Maurice begin to wrestle.

Maurice:  Hold on Laddie. I meant nothing by it. You earned more than your keep today, doing a full day's work at a full day's wage. I bet your mother will be proud of you when you get home. (Maurice pauses to drink.)
Come to think of it, we'd better be going. How about if I walk home with you. Just to pay my respects.

 

Lights dim.

 

Scene II:  Lights come up outside the Mullin home (center-stage). Maurice knocks on the door. The Widow Mullin enters from the door to the house (stage-left). Maurice is visibly startled by the beautiful woman who appears at the door.

 

Maurice:  Good evening to you, Ma'am. My name is Maurice Daughton. I brought young Dennis home to you, safe and sound.

Widow:  Good evening to you, Sir. I thank ye for your kindness. I was beginning to worry, and the supper getting cold.

Widow (Turning to Dennis):  Dennis, wash up now, and I hope you didn't drink too much to keep you from your supper.

Dennis:  No, Mother. I could be filled to the brim and still have room for your stew.

Dennis enters the house.

Maurice:  How did you know he had been drinking?

Widow:  I know men, and I know drink. What with the both of you strolling up with a song on your lips and the smell of beer on your breath. (Pause) Perhaps I can offer you a little supper, too. For your kindness to Dennis.

Maurice:  No, thank you anyway. I'd better be on my way.

Maurice turns to leave.

Maurice:  (Halting):  Perhaps I could take you up on your offer when I not tired to the death and smelling the same?

Widow:  Are ye a church-going man, Mr. Daughton?

Maurice:  I have at times and could be again.

Widow:  Perhaps if you find yourself at mass this Sunday morning, you could come by for Sunday dinner?

Maurice:  Mrs. Mullin, I might find myself at mass this Sunday morning. And if I do, I would be pleased to come to dinner.

Widow:  Goodnight, Mr. Daughton.

Maurice:  Goodnight, Mrs. Mullin.

Lights dim

 

Scene III:  Lights come up inside the Mullin home (stage-left). The Widow is putting dinner on the table. Dennis is present at the table and Ellen is helping her mother.

 

Widow:  Dennis, so how was the work today?

Dennis:  Mother, I tell you I was lost. Maurice, Mr. Daughton, saw me struggling and helped me. And after work, he took me to the pub and even paid for my pint. You know, he has a kind soul.

Widow:  I don't know if he has a kind soul or not. What I do know is that he's teaching you some bad habits that your father wouldn't approve of.

Dennis:  Come on, Mother. Dad always stopped by for a pint after work, and you never said a word to him.

Widow:  Your father was a grown man.

Dennis:  And, so am I.

Widow (Silently sobbing):  Aye, t'is true.

Dennis:  Don't worry, Mother. Everything is going to be alright. I got hired on just like Dad, and I'm going to bring home the money just like Dad. Anyway, we have the garden and the animals to help us get by.

Widow:  I know. We managed to make it when your father died. Yes, we'll make it, alright.

Dennis and Ellen depart stage-left.

Widow (To herself):  Imagine, my baby–a sixteen year-old man–supporting his mother and six brothers and sisters. Imagine.

 

Lights dim.

 

Scene IV:  Lights come up in the pub (stage-right). Maurice and Dennis are at their table. The Matchmaker is seated within hearing distance.

 

Maurice:  Dennis, my young friend, that surely was a fine meal your mother fed us yesterday.

Dennis:  Aye, she always cooks so much. You know, she even said that it costs no more to feed nine than eight. I bet that you could come around every Sunday for a meal. If you were of a mind to, that is.

Maurice:  And, if I was?

Dennis:  I would imagine that everyone would also be of a similar mind. But, I'm off. Tomorrow is another day.

Dennis departs stage-center.

Maurice (To the Matchmaker):  Matchmaker, I know that you've been hounding me for years, and you know that I've been running at the sound of the horn. But the time has come to speak of serious matters.

Matchmaker:  So, the time has come. Buy me another pint and I've a mind to listen.

Maurice (Waving to the barmaid):  Aye.

Matchmaker:  And, is there one particular Colleen who has captured your fancy?

Maurice:  Maybe.

Matchmaker:  Come on man, spit it out. Who is she?

Maurice:  The Widow Mullin.

Matchmaker:  Saints, preserve us!

Maurice:  What's the matter?

Matchmaker:  The Widow Mullin, poor husband not dead a year, and her being near forty. I know what has caught your eye. You fancy her land and goats and seven children to work for ye. I'll not be a part of it.

Maurice:  It's not like that. You see, I befriended young Dennis at work and then met the Widow. I've been going to their house on a regular basis to eat Sunday dinner. The truth is–if I continue to see her–people might talk. And, I have her reputation to think of.

Matchmaker:  Well, Maurice Daughton. Seems to me that I have remarked on your new-found sense of religion. If the Widow Mullin can inspire you enough to drag your impious self to mass, then perhaps this match can work.

Maurice:  Aye, it could.

Matchmaker:  Then, I'm off. But until the match is agreed to, stay away from the Mullin house.

Maurice:  Then be about your business.

 

Lights dim and curtain falls.

 

Act II

 

Scene I:  Lights come up inside the Mullin home (stage-left). The Widow is putting dinner on the table. And, Ellen is standing near her mother.

 

Widow:  Ellen, help me with the table.

Ellen:  I'm here.

Widow:  Have you not noticed the young Mr. Daughton attending church?

Ellen:  How could I not notice? He has followed us home for dinner every Sunday since Dennis started working.

Widow:  Do you find him pleasing?

Ellen (Laughing):  Aye. For an older man.

Widow:  Have you not given some consideration to the choice of your future husband?

Ellen:  Mother! What with Dennis working and Patrick begging to be following behind, are you trying to run all your children off?

Widow:  Lord, no. I was just thinking that young Mr. Daughton is a fine upstanding young man and that he would be acceptable as a husband for you.

Ellen:  Mother! I'm only fourteen. Why would you be trying to make a match for me?

Widow:  I don't know. I just have the feeling that times are changing and Mr. Daughton will be a part of the change. But, let it rest for now.

 

Lights dim

 

Scene II:  Lights come up on the pub (stage-right). Maurice is seated at their table and Dennis enters the pub from offstage-right.

 

Maurice:  Dennis, come and sit, Laddie. So how was it for you, today?

Dennis:  Fair. Fair.

Maurice:  Do you think that your mother would be having me to the house for Sunday dinner again?

Dennis:  Of course. She speaks fondly of your visits and reminds the wee children to be polite when you come.

Maurice:  Fondly, you say.

Dennis:  Aye.

Maurice:  You know, what with you working and young Patrick almost ready to work and the farm doing so well, your mother could afford to hire some help with the younger children and have some time for herself.

Dennis:  Even with a little extra money, Mother would never hire anyone. I swear she loves taking care of the children more than anything else in this world. I even bet, should the Good Lord will, she would have even more children were she to marry again.

Maurice:  Well speaking of marrying, you probably can't tell, but I've been giving it some thought, myself.

Dennis:  Oh! Really. And who would the lucky young woman be. Perhaps one of the buxom beauties from this pub? No wonder you spend your days and nights here.

Maurice:  No. And, I think that you would be surprised.

Dennis:  Maurice Daughton, nothing that you could do would ever surprise me.

Maurice:  Oh, perhaps.

Dennis:  Who is she?

Maurice:  Hold on to your seat.

Dennis:  OK. Who?

Maurice:  She is the loveliest woman I have ever laid eyes on.

Dennis:  Of course. Now, who is she?

Maurice:  You know, she is a widow.

Dennis:  So what. Who?

Maurice:  The Widow Mullin!

Dennis:  What!!!

 

A scuffle ensues but no damage is done. Lights dim.

 

Scene III:  Outside the Mullin Home (stage-center). Maurice and the matchmaker are awaiting the Widow's appearance. The Widow and Ellen appear from within the Mullin House.

 

Matchmaker (Turning to the Widow): Widow Mullin, may I formally present Mr. Maurice Daughton.

Widow:  Sir.

Matchmaker (Turning to Maurice):  Maurice Daughton, may I formally present Mrs. Margaret Mullin.

Maurice:  Ma'am.

Matchmaker:  Now you both know the rules. Walking and talking will be done in the presence of a chaperone. When both have agreed on the terms, I'll go to the church to post the bands. Now, both of you are grown. Don’t let this take too long. I'm not of a mind to be here day-in and day-out. Be off with ya, and don't go running faster than the wee Lassie can keep up.

Matchmaker departs stage-right.

Widow:  Mr. Daughton.

Maurice:  Call me Maurice.

Widow:  Mr. Daughton.

Maurice:  Yes.

Widow:  I'm afraid I've brought you here on false pretenses. You see, I'm not going to marry you.

Maurice (Demonstrably):  And, who was asking you?

Maurice turns to leave

Widow (Reaching for Maurice):  Maurice!

Maurice:  Yes, Margaret.

Widow:  I know that you wanted to marry me; and, I'm flattered. Why else would you have come with the Matchmaker?

Maurice:  Aye. I find you most pleasant. In truth, from the first time I saw you, I thought that you were the most beautiful woman that I had ever seen.

Widow (Blushing):  Oh! My. I thank ye kindly. But, if you are willing, I have a mind to walk and talk with you anyway.

Maurice:  So be it.

Widow holds Maurice's arm and they face stage-right.

Widow:  Ellen, there's a breeze coming up. Would you go inside and get me a shall?

Ellen:  Mother, the Matchmaker said that you two weren't to be off alone.

Widow:  Child, Mr. Daughton and I are grown, and I doubt that he will do anything that would damage my reputation.

 

Widow and Maurice exit stage-right. Lights dim. Curtain falls.

 

Scene IV:  The scene is played in front of the curtain. The year is 1849, and the famine has decimated Ireland . The remnants of the Daughton/ Mullin Family is preparing to board ship to leave Ireland . The wharf is represented by sounds of gulls.

 

Maurice:  "How the high have been laid low," sayeth the Preacher.

Dennis:  What?

Maurice:  Who could have known just a short eight years ago that we would be standing here facing the unknown?

Ellen:  I'm cold.

Maurice:  Once we get aboard, you'll be warm.

Dennis:  Where's Mother?

Maurice:  She's with Patrick. He's helping her to walk.

Dennis:  My God. When we returned home, I thought that she had died too.

Maurice:  What did you expect? Me and you and your sister off trying to earn the money to buy the food. Her and Patrick and the little ones starving.

Dennis:  I can't believe they are all gone.

Ellen:  They're with God.

Dennis:  Aye.

Maurice:  She laid down to die with the others. Patrick saved her; I don't know how. Now she won't leave his side. But, here they come.

Widow appears hanging on to Patrick's arm. She has aged terribly.

Widow:  Are we all here?

Dennis:  All that's left.

Widow:  Where are we going, again?

Dennis:  America , Mother.

Widow:  Why are we going there?

Dennis:  There is no famine in America . And, the land is free. The others are going too, all the neighbors.

Widow:  What of the little ones?

Maurice:  They've all been given Christian burials, Mother.

Widow:  You're a good son.

Maurice:  Come, let's go to America . We leave Ireland behind in search of a new home. For the Irish, this is the way it has always been. I hope that this is not the way it always will be.

Widow:  Amen.

 

Lights dim.

 

Epilogue

A single beam of light shines on an American flag (proscenium stage-right). The voices from the Prologue are heard again.

 

Granddaughter:  Grandma, is that a true story?

Grandmother:  True enough.

Granddaughter:  And all the younger children died?

Grandmother:  Aye.

Granddaughter:  You said that our family's story was the same as that of millions of other Irish. But, how is our story different?

Grandmother:  Child, during the famine, one in four Irish died; and one in four Irish migrated, mostly to America . Those who survived loaded ships with little but the clothes on their backs. Families were broken up, never to be reunited. But even through disaster, our family stayed together, arriving here in Iowa .

Granddaughter:  And, that's why our story's different?

Grandmother:  No, child. The fact that we remember our story and how it makes us who we are makes us different.

 

Lights out.