My Zinc Bed

My Zinc Bed

by David Hare
     
 

A darkly comic look at love and addiction by the author of Amy's View

When struggling poet, reformed alcoholic, and devout Alcoholics Anonymous adherent Paul Peplow interviews the wildly successful, reclusive, and notoriously prickly entrepreneur Victor Quinn, he is in no way prepared for what is to follow. Victor is not only familiar with Paul's

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Overview

A darkly comic look at love and addiction by the author of Amy's View

When struggling poet, reformed alcoholic, and devout Alcoholics Anonymous adherent Paul Peplow interviews the wildly successful, reclusive, and notoriously prickly entrepreneur Victor Quinn, he is in no way prepared for what is to follow. Victor is not only familiar with Paul's obscurely published work but can quote from it liberally; he is also somehow aware of Paul's battle with alcoholism and, without solicitation, Victor challenges Paul with his own confrontational thoughts on addiction, the true meaning of recovery, and what he sees as AA's hidden aga. Victor then concludes their bizarre encounter by offering Paul a job decorating the legend of his fast-growing Internet business. Yet as surreal as all this is, Paul is even less prepared to deal with Victor's seductive wife, Elsa, also a former alcoholic, but one who continues to drink and tempts Paul in ways that rattle him to his very core. Bound to incite discussion and controversy, My Zinc Bed is among David Hare's finest and most insightful plays -- a compelling work which boldly explores the extent to which one person can control the lives of those around him.

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Editorial Reviews

New York Post
[Hare is] one of the few major playwrights in our language.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780571205745
Publisher:
Faber and Faber
Publication date:
04/18/2001
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
130
Product dimensions:
4.89(w) x 7.77(h) x 0.37(d)

Read an Excerpt


Chapter One


Act One


ONE


The stage is a black void. It is important that its exact shape and size can only be sensed. Paul Peplow stands before us, alone. He's an attractive man, in his early thirties, thin, saturnine, tousled, as if he has just woken up. He wears an untidy linen suit and a tie, and his manner is self-deprecating.

Paul Joseph Conrad says that inside every heart there burns a desire to set down once and for all a true record of what has happened. For myself, nothing that has happened, nothing that can happen, compares with the passage of a single summer, from May to September, the cyber-summer when I first met Elsa Quinn.


TWO


Victor Quinn has appeared along a corridor of light and is advancing towards Paul, already talking. He is in his early fifties, anonymous, thickly built. His background is hard to place, for he has lost his native Northern accent. He has the air of a man whose power is held always in reserve. He wears an expensive suit, but no tie. It is not yet clear where we are, but, wherever, it is plainly Victor's home turf and Paul is the guest. The space around them remains undefined.

Victor `Many are the stories with interesting beginnings, but harder to find are the stories which end well.'

    He stops short of Paul, not yet shaking his hand.

Paul I'm sorry?

Victor Surely you can't have forgotten.

Paul Oh, I see.

Victor Your own words.

Paul Yes.

Victor Though maybe you write so many youlose track. (He smiles and shakes Paul's hand.) Victor Quinn.

Paul Paul Peplow.

Victor Of course.

Victor gestures towards a chair, leaving Paul free to sit or stand as be chooses.

`End well' in which sense? A story which ends well, meaning `well', meaning happily for its subject, or `well', meaning in a way which satisfies the reader? Or did you intend both? Is the ambiguity deliberate?

Paul Both, I think. It was just a book review.

    Victor looks at him a moment.

Victor I can't believe that's what you really feel.

    Paul waits, not willing to show his discomfiture.

Drink?

Paul No thank you.

Victor Of course. Wrong of me to ask. (He flashes a smile at Paul.) Well. As you know, I don't often agree to be interviewed.

Paul It's kind of you.

Victor Not at all.

Paul Why are you normally so reclusive?

Victor Have we started?

Paul has reached into his pocket and got out a notebook.

Ah. The book's coming out.

Paul Please.

Victor How can you call me a recluse? I live in the centre of London.

Paul But you don't give interviews.

Victor I'm not an exhibitionist, no. I'm a simple man. My question is always `To what end?' To what end would I tell people, say, my favourite restaurant? My favourite tailor? That the world should beat a path to the restaurant? That I should have to wait longer for my suit?

Paul Do you have a tailor?

Victor No. I buy off-the-peg.

    Paul makes a note.

If you'd like something to eat.

Paul No thank you. And how did you know I would refuse a drink?

Victor Ah.

Paul Did someone tell you?

    Victor smiles, pleased with this question.

Victor I believe you belong to what cooks on television call the vulnerable groups.

Paul I've never heard that expression.

Victor `Remember: don't put brandy in this pudding, it endangers the vulnerable groups.' You don't need to say more. I know about these things. `Hello my name is Victor. I'm an alcoholic.' You see. I've followed the course myself.

Paul It's not really a course.

Victor No. A course implies an end ...

Paul Yes.

Victor And in this case there is no end. (He looks at Paul thoughtfully.) I've studied the meetings. At the time I was trying to understand the techniques.

Paul What techniques exactly?

Victor Well, Paul, we can talk about anything you like. But for this particular subject, you first have to concede the accuracy of my intelligence. (He waits for Paul.) I'm sorry.

Paul No.

Victor If you're reluctant.

    Paul hesitates a moment.

Paul I go to the meetings, yes.

Victor Yes, that's what I thought.

Paul I have no idea how you know. To be honest I'm surprised you've heard of me at all.

Victor England is a series of clubs. No club more celebrated, no club more socially advantageous than yours. Under the guise of admitting their fallibility, people meet in fact to advance their own cause.

Paul You obviously didn't go very often.

Victor No. (Victor gestures at Paul to encourage him to speak.) You say. You say what you think these meetings are.

Paul A means ... one means of people helping one another.

Victor looks at Paul for a moment in a way which makes it clear that Victor thinks him naive.

I suppose we should start by discussing FLOTILLA.

Victor Go ahead.

Paul Its recent move to the stock market.

Victor A transparent success. What's your question?

Paul Whether you did it for the money.

    For the first time Victor looks impatient.

Victor Now perhaps you understand my distrust. What do I answer? `I did it for the money.' People will think I'm greedy. `I didn't do it for the money.' Then they'll say I'm unworldly. More likely, I'm lying. I'm a hypocrite. Paul, you of all people understand: the modern newspaper interview is a form as rigid and contrived as the eighteenth-century gavotte.

Paul Shall I just put: he refused to answer?

Victor Meaning: he's a prick.

    They both smile.

He consented to an interview, then he wouldn't answer the questions!

Paul Why `of all people'? Why did you say `me of all people'?

Victor A poet.

Paul Ah.

Victor I read poetry. I read yours.

Love was the search, the wheel, the line, The open road and the steep incline; Things speeding by, the final turn in view, Next: something disastrous, overwhelming, new.

I hardly believe you would now be paddling in journalism if it weren't purely for the money.

Paul No.

Victor You'll drink to that.

Paul Yes. So to speak. (Paul smiles, amused by Victor's manner.)

Victor I liked the idea, I promise you.

Paul Of this interview?

Victor No. Of the meetings. I thought the meetings amusing.

Paul Amusing? Obviously you aren't alcoholic.

Victor I'm not.

Paul The meetings are a discipline.

Victor Of course. They wouldn't be addictive if they weren't.

    Paul now understands Victor's point.

Paul Oh I see ...

Victor All cults make similar demands.

Paul I think it's childish, people calling AA a cult. It's ignorant. I tell you what: I actually believe it's quite dangerous.

Victor Do you? I'd have thought it's a classic cult.

Paul Why?

Victor The chairs, the coffee, the soul-searching ... (Victor hastens to explain.) Believe me, I'm not denying its usefulness.

Paul You couldn't.

Victor It is the means by which many people survive. Or they believe it is.

Paul It saved my life.

    There is a short silence.

I was found on the m4, dodging the traffic. And naked, in the middle of the night.

Victor Huh.

Paul I don't need to question the value of AA.

    Victor is completely still.

Victor What brought you there? What brought you to the motorway so late at night?

    Paul does not answer.

It's none of my business. You're right. Presumably you believe that one drink will take you on the road to hell?

Paul I do believe that, yes.

Victor It's what they teach you.

Paul It's also what I believe.

Victor It isn't true, you know.

Paul Isn't it?

Victor Of course not. The cult makes rules. It demands obedience. The cult has invented the slogan: One Drink, One Drunk. But it isn't actually true. If you had cured your own addiction, in the privacy of your own home, then you could perfectly well drink socially again.

Paul I'm not going to take that risk.

Victor You can't take that risk, you mean?

    Again, Paul says nothing.

`Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker.' Do they still say that?

Paul They do. (Paul watches Victor mistrustfully.)

Victor I'm making you uncomfortable.

Paul Is this relevant?

Victor To what? I'm making you nervous, I see.

Paul No, I'm not nervous. I'm meant to do an interview, that's all. That's what I'm doing here. You make me seem boring. And obsessive. `I've got an interview to do.' I sound like a bore.

Victor Well, let's be fair. Do the interview, I get nothing out of this meeting. Tell me about alcoholism, I may profit as well.

Paul looks a moment, resolving to be straight with him.

Paul There's nothing to say.

Victor Nothing?

Paul I have no theories. Theories don't interest me.

Victor No?

Paul I have one aim in life ...

Victor Just one?

Paul My aim is to get to bed sober tonight. That's my aim. And I have found pragmatically — excuse me, I know a little about this — that the only means of achieving it is through attendance at AA. It's the only method which works.

    He's finished. Victor smiles.

Victor Have you thought ... have you considered what it would mean to be cured?

Paul Of course. Naturally.

Victor Are you sure?

Paul I think of little else.

Victor But that's my point. If you can't drink at all — ever — then by definition you're not cured.

Paul What's your idea of cured?

Victor `Thank you. I'll just have the one. Just the one for me. Thank you.' (Victor smiles, pleased with his own answer.) You should think about it, Paul. Consider. It's only groups which demand total abstinence. Why? Because their intention is not to stop you drinking. That is only a side-aim. Their principal aim is to retain you as a member of the group.

Paul It's a familiar argument. It's also nonsense.

Victor Really? I'm interested. Tell me why.

There is a moment's pause before Paul decides to take the plunge.

Paul Look, if you really want to know ...

Victor I do.

Paul Of course I went into AA kicking and screaming.

Victor Ah.

Paul Everyone does. What I'm saying is: at the end of a very long story. Which I am not going to tell you. Believe me, I had a thousand reservations ...

Victor But presumably you'd bottomed ...

Paul Yes.

Victor That's the phrase they use.

Paul I bottomed.

Victor The M4.

Paul Not just the M4. Not just that one night, believe me.

Victor Other nights?

    Paul looks at him a moment.

Paul You wake up in the morning and you've fallen down three flights of stairs. But even so. Even then. I was still reluctant. I clung to the thought: I'm not the sort of person who sits in a circle stripping himself bare.

Victor I'm sure. A poet.

Paul Even when I was young, at college, in the student common room, come that dreaded moment, come eleven, come twelve, people have been drinking — beer in those days, of course — and they begin to spill. How unhappy they are. How pointless life is.

Victor Yes.

Paul You can imagine. I was out of that room like a shot.

Victor Somehow I see you alone with a girl come midnight.

Paul Whatever. I was not in the common room, telling all and sundry my innermost thoughts. (Paul is suddenly insistent.) However. You go to the meetings because you have to. Because it's your last chance. Your only chance. And it doesn't matter who you think you once were, what sense of yourself you once had, that identity you were once convinced was you — you left that person behind in the gutter with his pride and his empty bottle and his, `Oh I'd never join a cult ...' (He looks at Victor, using his word.) If we were alone on this earth then what would it matter? Who cares? You work that one out pretty quickly. Oh sure, everyone has the right to destroy their own life. But to destroy the lives of others?

Victor Ah yes. `Others.' (Victor has stopped, thoughtful.)

Paul You're right. I was frightened of AA. Yes. Why do you think I was frightened?

Victor I'd have thought it was obvious.

Paul Not at all. I was frightened because in my heart I knew it would work.

Victor I see.

Paul Yes.

Victor Because it works?

Paul That's why. I no sooner walked into the room than I intuited: Oh my God, this is going to work. And when the fifteen-year-old daughter of a Scottish plumber calls you in the middle of the night to ask if you can come and help her father who has passed out in the toilet, then — forgive me — you don't think, `Oh yes, this is really helping my career.' If you want personal advancement, stay in the pub. (Paul shakes his head.) My resistance now seems ridiculous.

Victor Why?

Paul `I'm not the sort of person who does this,' you say. But what sort of person are you by that stage? What have you become? A worthless drunk.

Victor Yes. It's that word `worthless' I have trouble with.

    Paul looks at him a moment, distressed.

Paul I'm sorry. Plainly I shouldn't have come here.

Victor No. I apologise.

Paul I didn't come to talk about this stuff. (Paul struggles painfully through what be says next.) I'll be honest. I have only recently, with great difficulty, begun once more to write for the papers because — again — we seem to be talking about me — I have to avoid stress. (Then Paul turns to Victor and laughs.) I'm broke. Yeah. I'm completely broke. I don't have a fucking penny in the world. I can't get a bank account. The editor pays me in cash.

Victor Where do you live?

Paul Camberwell.

    Victor shrugs to say that isn't so bad.

Paul Stretching the charity of a last remaining friend. You?

Victor Regent's Park.

Paul Good. Well, that's something solid for the article.

Paul's sudden unsteadiness has brought them close. Victor speaks quietly, opening up for the first time.

Victor I was a communist.

Paul Yes.

    Victor waits.

What are you saying? Is that how your interest in cults came about?

Victor Sort of. Apparently the newspapers have taken to calling me a one-time Marxist. They can't bring themselves to use the proper word. I'm most insistent. I wasn't a Marxist. I was a communist. I use the full shocker.

Paul All or nothing, eh?

Victor That sort of thing.

Paul And you mean it was a cult? There were rules?

Victor Conditions of membership, yes. All clubs have membership rules or they aren't clubs.

Paul England, you were saying ...

Victor Yes. A series of clubs. The English love clubs. Not of course for the pleasure of allowing people in ...

Paul No.

Victor Oh no! The far headier delight of keeping people out! They love that! English communists, we were a select little band. A snotty little group we were.

Paul And presumably the moment came when you began to see club rules as arbitrary ...

Victor It took a long time. For a long time, I subscribed.

Paul It's a familiar progress, isn't it, from student politics? Communist to entrepreneur?

Victor I still believe in history. A way of looking at things historically. You never lose that. The computer comes along. It's the next thing.

Paul But they took years to develop.

Victor For years you walked past them. Everyone did. They were just whopping great dinner plates spinning in glass-panelled rooms. Then suddenly — whoosh. Of themselves uninteresting. But you spot the moment. The fortunes were made very quickly, as you probably know. (Victor shrugs.) Not that I claim any credit.

Paul You could equally well have been wrong.

Victor Exactly.

Paul What were you doing before?

Victor Importing virgin olive oil. Stupid, I agree. I mistook changes in life-style for historical shifts. That's what I mean. I'm as vulnerable to bullshit as everyone else.

They are getting on well now. Paul is taking notes, more relaxed now.

When I left the Party I was penniless. Like you. I was a tour guide for a while.

Paul On top of a double-decker?

Victor Correct. I specialised in misleading information. I used to love pointing out the place where General Eisenhower, to thank the British people for their heroic war effort, had built a life-size statue of Mickey Mouse. The whole bus craned their necks to see.

Paul That's funny.

Victor I always said `life-size'. I loved saying `life-size'. `We are now passing the spot where Lord Nelson first made love to Lady Hamilton ...' I usually chose the Elephant and Castle.

Paul What are you saying?

Victor They saw it, you see. They saw the statue.

Paul People are gullible?

Victor No. They're romantic. They see the statue when it isn't there. (Victor smiles, pleased at the thought. He too is becoming less guarded.) Capitalists make me laugh because they understand nothing. They talk about strategy and markets as if they were in control.

Paul And aren't they?

Victor They use soothing devices like big cars and hotels and servants. They use luxury as a sort of massage to persuade themselves they've acted brilliantly, that their actions have been brilliant ...

Paul Whereas in fact?

    Victor shrugs.

Victor They've worked hard and had a bit of luck.

Paul Don't you use big cars?

Victor Never. Or only for the children, anyway.

Paul How many children do you have?

Victor There's an advantage to seeing things historically. It makes you less self-important. (Victor pauses, wanting to lay down a principle.) Communism is night-class. It's where you learn. Who is doing what to whom? If you don't believe that the rich spend their time on this earth effectively fucking over the poor, then I don't see how you make any sense of what goes on in the world at all.

    Paul smiles, risking his neck a little.

Paul But, forgive me, nobody could mistake your wealth.

Victor No?

Paul I don't think so. To look at you, it's clear.

Victor Is it? I'm rather insulted.

Paul You make certain assumptions. If you don't mind my saying.

Victor (watchful) Say more.

Paul Well, I've noticed you use certain techniques. Which, rightly or wrongly, I associate with the rich. Or at least with the powerful.

Victor What techniques are those?

Paul What I mean is: you'd read my poetry.

Victor Well?

Paul Is it a manner? Is it a game? You read my poetry before the meeting. You put yourself instantly at an advantage. `I know who you are. I've read This Too Shall Pass.'

Victor Yes. I see. You think that's specifically a technique of the rich?

Paul And, what's more, learning a whole verse.

Victor `Love was the search, the wheel, the line ...'

Paul A line maybe, but a whole verse!

Victor Too much?

Paul If the purpose was to unsettle me, then I'm afraid you've succeeded. I've been uncomfortable ever since you arrived.

Victor Forgive me, but I think you would have been uncomfortable however I approached you.

Paul blushes, caught off-guard. He reaches for his notebook in confusion.

Paul We'd better go on.

Victor I'm sorry. I went too far.

Paul I'm fine.

Victor I do that. Are you all right?

Paul I'm fine. (He isn't. He takes a second to recover.) When did you leave the Party?

Victor 1975.

Paul And do you miss it?

Victor Let's say, it's like New Zealand. I'm glad it's there but I have no wish to visit.

Paul Put it another way: do you regret its decline?

Paul is not letting go. Victor looks at him, a little wistful.

Victor It's the world that's changed, not me. Or changed more than me.

Paul In what way?

Victor Something has happened which I don't pretend to understand. We are now told that managing things is a technical skill. What you manage is irrelevant. All businesses are essentially the same.

Paul Is that what you believe yourself?

Victor That's what they tell us. Politicians boast of being plumbers, not architects. The word `ideological' is never now mentioned.

Paul Except with the word `baggage'.

Victor That's right. (Victor thinks about it a moment.) Now we solve problems. Everything is a problem, and we solve it. We say, what is the problem? We define it. Nothing is decided in advance, because nothing is believed in advance. It's as simple as that. That's how we proceed. That's how we get things done. The containable life.

(Continues...)

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