The Boys from Siamby John Austin Connolly
Announcing the 2007 winner of the Yale Drama Series
John Connolly’s The Boys from Siam has been chosen as the first winner of the Yale Drama Series. This play was selected by playwright and contest judge Edward Albee, winner of the Pulitzer prize. Based loosely on the lives of nineteenth-century brothers Chang and Eng Bunker (the source of the term/i>
Announcing the 2007 winner of the Yale Drama Series
John Connolly’s The Boys from Siam has been chosen as the first winner of the Yale Drama Series. This play was selected by playwright and contest judge Edward Albee, winner of the Pulitzer prize. Based loosely on the lives of nineteenth-century brothers Chang and Eng Bunker (the source of the term “Siamese twins”), The Boys from Siam is the haunting and lyrical story of conjoined twins Pigg and Pegg. In his foreword, Edward Albee writes that the work is “a beautifully realized concentrated universe. It takes big chances along the way . . . and makes us carereally care.”
For more information and complete rules for the Yale Drama Series, visit yalebooks.com
Read an Excerpt
The Boys from Siam
By JOHN AUSTIN CONNOLLY
YALE UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2008 John Austin Connolly
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCast of Characters
PIGG A man in his sixties and younger
PEGG His twin
SAL and ADDIE Two wickerwork figures: sisters
Place: PIGG's home and various other locations revisited
Time: A single day in 1874 and earlier times revisited
The two figures are life-size, constructed of wickerwork and able to bend at the waist. They are evidently representations of two plump women, each wearing two items of clothing: an apron and a bonnet. The apron ties around the waist, and this is primarily what gives the impression of plumpness. Otherwise the figures are entirely composed of wicker; the backdrop and the lights can be seen through this. They can be set to stand on the floor, are lightweight enough to be carried easily by the actors, and are made so that the actors can place them in a sitting position with ease.
When PIGG or PEGG speak as another character, the delivery must have a different individual rhythm and nature.
The script format is chosen to draw the optimal reading from the actor: firstly the pauses and silences, then the punctuation, and, finally, on this edifice, the words.
The author wishes to acknowledge the lives and experiencesof Chang and Eng Bunker.
Apologies to Stephen Foster for occasionally placing "Beautiful Dreamer" in an earlier time.
The setting is PIGG's bedroom, indicated center stage. An unusually large bed sits in the middle; everything in the set forces attention to the bed. The bed can be pulled apart into two smaller beds, although this is not yet apparent.
A playbill is displayed on the left upstage wall of the bedroom. On it the heading ROBERTS AND RAWLEIGH can be seen. On the right upstage wall a votive light flickers. A pair of calf-high boots stands under the votive lamp, another pair under the playbill. A stand with a ewer, placed stage left of the playbill, has two hand towels hanging beneath it. A large cut-throat razor is clearly visible on the ewer stand.
To the right and the left of the bedroom are small, ill-defined spaces. The stage-left space is the larger. The stage-right space contains unclear images, reminiscent of a delta, at the back, including a minimally indicated two-dimensional image of a riverboat, such as might be found in Southeast Asia. A real coolie hat hangs from where the mast is pictured.
The layout allows the actors to move directly between the three spaces as events occur. The presence of doors or walls is indicated minimally and by the movement and behavior of the actors.
The curtain rises on a dimly lit stage. Details can be made out as the light rises on the bed and bedroom, and the outer spaces darken. PIGG lies on the bed, propped up by a collection of pillows and bedclothes. He has thrashed his way to the center of the bed, and further to his left the bedclothes and pillows are massed and tumbled, suggesting distress and agitation. PIGG rocks the bundle beside him roughly, pauses, then withdraws his hands quickly.
PIGG (Moaning.) It's over. I'm finished. That's it.
He throws his arms wide in despair and intones pitifully.
The curtains have closed. The spirit has died within me. The sun has set....
Crops harvested and now the grass yellowing. The well has run dry.
I am finished. Laid to rest. That's it. I'm all done. Pegg is dying. Dead, perhaps.
He pauses and reflects. He looks wonderingly around and upward and beyond the fourth wall into the distance, as if seeing a vision.
It wasn't like this in the beginning.
Nothing like this. (Dreamily.) It felt good then. Just to be alive. The sun rising in the east.
He stares to his left, gestures with his arm.
The birds singing. The dew fresh on the green grass. It felt good then.
It felt good to be part of the new day. It felt good to be alive. (Pause. To the audience.) We had no complaints. How could we?
PEGG's voice comes from beneath the bedclothes. All the interjections by PEGG are muffled but audible.
PEGG You didn't!
PIGG I remember the glint of the early light across the delta.
He points to his left as a shaft of light comes across him and illumines the boat.
Just a glimmer, as the less-than-blackness shouldered its way in from the east.
The side of life. I always loved the east. Always wanted to be the east.
The west stood for the setting sun; when it went down, it pulled you down too. Nighttime. I never wanted to live in the nighttime, to have some thing or some one come between you and the side of life. The east side.
So when you rose and crept out on the dewy deck, you turned so you faced the dim light.
Pushing your way around (Struggles.) if need be.
Then there was nothing between you and the sun rising (The shaft of light brightens and reddens.), that brilliant red rim wavering up from the water's horizon.
PIGG forms a circle with his cupped hands. He stretches out his left arm and closes his hand in the shaft of light.
(Quietly.) All I ever wanted was to hold the rising sun.
He cups his hands around his eyes to cut off his view of the two spaces on either side of the bedroom.
But that's over now. It was over a long time ago.
He punches the bed in frustration.
Below, as PIGG relives the moment, the sunlight brightens and fades, intensely and dramatically, in parallel with the volume of his voice and the topic.
You can't forget.
I could rise early as the dawn and see that sun king awake from slumber.
I could believe for a half-instant (Illustrates with his thumb and forefinger.) that I was alone in all the world. Just me, just the sun king, together.
And then I felt I could soar on the first trembling shafts of the new light.
Savor the birth of the new day (Stretching hands wide, poetical. To the audience.), rising on the luminous eddies so that my soul left me, free as a stray thought, the first dipping touch of the breeze against my body.
PEGG That's all finished.
PIGG Alone without loneliness.
I was only a child then. I knew nothing about reality. (Gestures toward the playbill.) I thought that golden moment in the early dawn was reality, was the way of the world.
Thought that I too could be like the sun king, alone, strong, forever independent.
I thought then that in that split second perhaps I was God, could make myself God!
PIGG (Contemplates. To the audience.) That's if he existed at all.
I would stand on the tip of my toes, facing the east, letting my arms float wide (Illustrates.) on the breath of dawn, and I would close my eyes and feel my body about to assume itself into heaven-
PIGG To join and be and become the sun king.
He pauses, deflated.
That moment was my life.
The only thing that was ever truly mine.
PEGG (Interrupts, disparagingly.) You were lucky.
PIGG And then the weight would come.
He falls back against the pillows.
So I had to keep my feet hard against the grainy deck, curling my toes in anguish, as that weight forced me to let go my vision of the king, to fall back, (Tearful.) to fall down into the waters, closing, cooling, contracting my spirit; dark, not light; sinking, not rising.
Done. Finished. That single moment of aloneness gone.
All the yearning of my soul was in that moment! Ready to fly, up from tiptoe, and then gone.
All finished, all done.... They all said, (Tapping his chest with his finger.) I was the one with the dreams.
(As if someone else, mockingly.) You were the one with the dreams.
The-what is it they call it?-irony, that's it. Life has an-an irony all its own. What you wish for, you get, but you discover that it's not what you want.
He opens his clasped hand and peers closely, then exclaims and throws off whatever it is he has found.
Aloneness. That's what I wanted.
That's what I thought I wanted.
Just some time-a few moments only-time on my own. Alone.
And the loss of that aloneness soured my life, hung over me like the sword in that story, the sword of Damocles.
All my life I twisted and turned to become free, to be alone again, like those moments on the boat at the time of sunrise.
And now it's all over, and I'm finished.
It's only morning, but already I can see the sun going, setting in the west, trailing my life downward with its rays.
The illumination reduces and blues. He wraps the bedspread tightly around himself.
It's cold, so it is.
All my life I've hidden those moments of beauty deep within myself.
The sun rising, bursting, flowing with life.
A rose unfolding and the rose petals falling on the grass. Sweet music.
Cut grass drying in the dusk.
He lifts the bedspread, looks under it.
The lights slowly go up as PIGG reflects.
(To the audience.) I could always see beauty.
In Mama's face.
In a wisp of smoke from the cooking fire on the deck of the boat.
Making clouds into horsemen.
Making rainbows of the twisting fish.
I often wondered how the others made out. (Pause.) It took the two of us together to make out.
Long pause. He shakes his head sadly.
We were great fishermen. The best!
Cleaving the water like the fish we sought. Like dolphins in the dawn.
Chasing those darting flashes, (Illustrates.) spearing them in an instant until the net bags tied to our waists were full of wriggling bodies and we had to fight to lift ourselves to the surface.
We kept all of them alive.
Mama said it. And now life ... life ... it's going. It's done. I never did have time to hold the rising sun.
PIGG agonizes in frustration. He hits out at himself, the pillows, the bedclothes. To his left in the bed the bedclothes heave and twist and a voice grumbles in remonstrance. The face and shoulders of another man appear. It is PEGG. They glare at each other.
PEGG (Dismissively.) It would have burned you. (Pause.) Move back to your own side. You always hung out of me.
PIGG Pegg! I thought you were nearly dead. Dying, at least. Now you're not.
PEGG (Sourly.) I am. (Pause.) Nearly. Not long to go.
PIGG So it's ... no use. We're finished.
PEGG Maybe so. Maybe not.
PEGG It depends.
PIGG (To the audience.) It always depended with you. It depended what you wanted. I only dreamed. You made things happen.
PEGG (Nodding.) True. We left the others behind a long time ago. You dreaming, me doing.
Pause, as they reflect.
PEGG You're alive. I'm nearly dead. Dying, anyway. (Pause.) Together we're in ... trouble.
PEGG shifts awkwardly and wraps some blanket around PIGG. The gesture is almost tender, but neither acknowledge this. In the process they both sit up fully, and the audience can see that they are joined by a flexible band, about the thickness and length of an upper arm, which runs between their chests forward of the meridian and at breast level.
The join is suggested as much as shown, for their nightwear is designed to accommodate their unusual shape. Their daywear also proves to be tailored appropriately.
To the observer the band is a shocking restraint, but they pay no particular heed to it. They have lived with it all their lives and can maneuver easily to accomplish any task. They have to address every task in unison but are also obviously two separate bodies and personalities. PIGG, it later becomes clear, is slighter and smaller.
PIGG Is it ... big trouble?
PEGG I never thought it would come to this. I'm halfway gone. Look at me! No energy left. Just draining away. You can't do a thing for me. I never thought . . . (Gestures at the bed.) this would get dimmer slowly and that (Points to his left.) would get clearer by the minute. When we fished, all those years ago. Diving down, then rising up to the surface, so it was dark below and light on top. Remember?
PIGG Surely you didn't-
PEGG (Irritated.) Like this, I mean. Like this. Me dying. You ... maybe left alone.
PEGG It was supposed to be different. A simple matter of closing our eyes, lying back, going to sleep. (Illustrates.)
PIGG I did that! We both did it. We both went asleep. Last night. You remember.
PEGG Well, it didn't work for me. Dead and dying at the same time.
It was supposed to be angels whenever it happened. Choirs and trumpets. Just me, mind. Not you.
You weren't supposed to be hanging out of me like a ... like a ... piece of phlegm.
PIGG That's all you ever thought of me.
PEGG That's a lie.
PIGG Look at you now, nearly finished. Go on, anyway.
PEGG (To the audience.) I always believed.
He gestures toward the votive lamp.
PIGG (Without heat, almost habitually.) When it suited you.
PEGG You remember when we settled here? The next day Pastor Gustafson rode over.
PIGG Doffed his hat.
PEGG He was always very civil. He said: "Good day to you, gentlemen."
PIGG "Both of you." He said "both of you."
PEGG (To the audience.) It was good land, the best.
PIGG I wanted to plant some trees. Remember?
PEGG How could I forget? You wanted to waste good land. You had a vision, you said.
PIGG I wanted to plant trees.
Two of those giants we saw when we displayed out West. So in the morning they would frame the rising sun-
PEGG Don't be a fool! The well had to be dug.
PIGG (Obstinately.) Not right there.
PEGG (Dismissively.) They would have drained the ground like a leech.
PIGG Look who's talking.
PEGG Well, they would.
PIGG It would have helped. Helped me. It was something I wanted. Just for me. Something special. But you couldn't. Not then, not now. You were being practical back then. That's what you said. But what about now? I can't live for you, breathe for you, beat my heart for your heart much longer.
(Aside.) What am I supposed to do? If I do nothing, I'm gone anyway. (Holding his right hand with fingers straight, making a chopping motion.) If I do ... do ... that, no, no . . . (Weeps.)
PEGG (Ignoring him, refusing to be drawn.) Those visions got you nowhere. Where would you have been without someone practical. Didn't you have me?
PIGG (Reflectively.) Just once, to be alone.
PIGG (Steadily, to himself.) So when I saw the rising sun, I could for one solitary instant even think I was alone, imagine what it would be like to be alone.
He turns as far as possible away from PEGG. Silence.
PEGG Well, now you are. (PEGG grasps PIGG's hand between his two and strokes it.) In half an hour, anyway.
PIGG Don't say that.
PEGG (Urgently.) Don't give in, Pigg.
PIGG What's it like?
PIGG That. You know. What's it like ... dying.
He gestures at and beyond PEGG.
PEGG (Testily.) I was telling you. But you always interrupt.
PIGG Go on.
PEGG (Puzzled.) I can't see very clearly. I can't see you very clearly. Like I'm in between somehow. I can just make things out. It's a bit empty.
PEGG There isn't very much here. There. Wherever it is.
PIGG Well, where's all the-
PEGG Shh! Keep your voice down. It's like I ... I'm not all there. You remember the spectacles I had to get when I couldn't see to do the accounts any longer? Well, here it's like ... Well, the only way I can make you understand, it's like having spectacles, but with glass from the bottom of a bottle. Not smooth but wavy, clear in some places, foggy in others.
PIGG You're crazy. (Aside.) Although you've looked through the end of a bottle enough times to know what that's like!
PEGG It's not like Pastor Gustafson said.
Heavenly choirs and angels. All the righteous. Mama.
PIGG Not there? Ha! Then I was right, all those years. You knew it was just politeness when I pretended to listen to his sermons.
PEGG (Ignoring him.) Not here. No sign.
PIGG I don't understand.
PEGG It's difficult to explain. It's not as if it's a big space like what you'd expect. Doesn't look like prairie land.
PIGG Don't blame me. I never expected anything.
PEGG (Ignoring him.) It's more like lots of tiny ones, but that's not quite right either.
I can hear them in lots of other spaces, but I can't see them all. Just a few. It's like being in a mist. You'll see what I mean. Later, when you-
PIGG Oh. (Intently.) And Ching! What about Ching?
PEGG (Passing off question.) Maybe when I have time I'll have a look around.
PIGG (Half serious, half mockingly.) Maybe you could put up a bill-
He points to the playbill.
Excerpted from The Boys from Siam by JOHN AUSTIN CONNOLLY Copyright © 2008 by John Austin Connolly. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
John Austin Connolly lives and writes in Dublin. His previous works have been showcased at the Kilkenny Arts Festival and the Dublin Temple Bar Arts Festival. A recent short story has been short-listed for the 2007 Francis MacManus short story competition in Ireland.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews