Writing ‘The Two Loves of Gabriel Foley’

I started writing this play in April 2010 – later than usual in the year because of problems I was having elsewhere. I had been planning to start a different play altogether – about a man, living with his mother, who was running a fan club for a 60s television western series and who had invited its star to Ireland for a fan weekend. What put me off writing this play was that it would necessitate drama groups hiring a cowboy costume for the production. So, somehow, that play developed into what became ‘The Two Loves of Gabriel Foley’.
In earlier plays there were sometimes domineering wives and henpecked husbands, so this time I decided to explore the relationship between a mother and son – and it helped that I’m caring for my own mother, although the play is not in any way autobiographical.
From the start, I felt everything went right with the play. I hit the right note with each character’s introduction so that the dialogue was easy to write – the exchanges almost wrote themselves. One line seemed to lead to another. I managed to write about two pages each night and would go back to correct them the following night while writing another two. A twenty-four hour remove can show up flaws in dialogue.
The triangle between Gabriel, Hazel and Chrissie works very well and I believe audience sympathy will be with Chrissie, the woman from down the road with the heart of gold. The end of Act 1 Scene 1 has a great punchline, which I think came to me while I was brushing my teeth as many of my best lines of dialogue often do.
I wasn’t sure whether to make Hazel likeable or unlikeable. For the first chunk of the play she is only talked about by other characters. I was debating that choice with myself right up until her entrance as what sort of character she was going to determine the course of the play. In the end, I think making her unlikeable was the right choice. I based aspects of her character on a woman I know – not the sexual aspects – but just her forceful, no-nonsense nature. Having a reference point for her character gave me an idea as to how she might react in other situations.
The relationship between sisters Aggie and Lucy developed as the play went on. Lucy’s depressing news about the swine flu and the bird flu at the beginning of the play actually came from a family gathering I was at last year when a woman came out with this gem that she’d read in a newspaper – just to ‘cheer up’ the proceedings. Don’t you love people like that? Some people like to spread doom and gloom and then blissfully carry on eating their sandwiches. But I’m a worrier – statements like that put me off my food. So I knew I had to put it in a play. And Lucy’s whole character really grew out of that. I imagine Lucy is one of these people who goes around with a permanent rain cloud over her head. I gave her a name that relies heavily on alliteration just to have an odd-sounding Lacey name (I have two good friends Michael and Mary McMahon-Lacy and I try to include some reference to their surname in most of my plays).
Morag’s phrase ‘my little butterflies’ dates back to the late 1970s/early 1980s and a tour guide I knew in Lourdes who used to refer to the people in her charge as her ‘little butterflies’. I fell in love with her completely and could have written a whole play about her. I was sorry I couldn’t have given her more to do in the play.
I like the name ‘Clive Snell’. It conjures up a slimey, unlikeable character.
Then when I was about three-quarters of the way through the play the son-in-law of a very good friend of mine died in tragic circumstances. It cast a pall of gloom over the whole proceedings and made finishing the play very very difficult. Fortunately, I managed to do it.
The play was supposed to have had its premiere in Portumna in December 2010 but had to be postponed until January 2011 because of the weather.
Along with ‘Mother Knows Best’, this is probably my all-time favourite play..

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