Brian Dennehy: Fact & Fiction

List of Characters
Sara, a pretty African-American in her late thirties
Jess, her overweight friend
Abe, a thirtysomething bohemian type wearing
vest and cap
Matt, a burly mid-forties bartender
Brian Dennehy, early-seventies, looks like a ship builder
Christine, a punked out musician type, heavy makeup
The man, a loud, fast moving, flashy twentysomething
Tim, mid-fifties

The story of the play:
A one-act play based on a conversation with Brian Dennehy. His lines are more or less direct quotes from an interview with the actor. The setting and other characters were written around Dennehy’s lines.

SCENE I: Delineate

It is a typical Long Island bar. It is early in the fall night, 7 or 8pm. It is a wild night: windy and wet, but not raining. INSIDE, there is a copper stamped ceiling, stained glass windows, black and green walls, small tables and chairs down the left. On the right, a long L-shaped bar, a cloudy mirror runs the height of the wall behind it. A shillelagh hangs on one side of the bar. Random pictures, sports memorabilia, dollar bills, postcards and one hard white safari hat are scattered among the bottles.

Sara: I just love art.
Abe: Come see my show. It’s about women finding their way in a man’s world.
Sara: You’re a man.
Jess: Where did you say it was?
Sara: What do you know about a woman’s way?
Jess: South of the train tracks?
Abe: Yeah. South of the tracks. You’ll see a yellow neon fish. That’s the gallery. Yellow Fish—a comment on how everything, even our fish, are being glammed up to sell.
Sara: Matt, I could stand another. Neat this time.
Matt: This is new. (He pours a shot of tequila.) You’re not driving are you?
Sara: Nope. I’m warming up for the walk home.
The door flies open and a large man walks in on his cell phone. He’s wearing a simple black leather jacket, corduroy pants and a plaid hat. His back is to them.
Brian: No, I’m here. (Pause) I told you, I just dumped my stuff into the laundry. I’ll be back up in my room later.
Matt: You ok Jess? Abe?
Jess: I could stand a Sprite.
Abe: Guinness.
Brian (as he takes a seat): Make that two. Never mind, what’s your scotch?
Matt: Highland Park, Talisker, Oban…
Brian: Talisker.
Abe: So you coming to my show?
Sara: A man’s show about the ways of women? Why don’t I just read the bible? A-a-abe?
Abe: It’s not about the ways of women. It’s an examination of the paradigm: all these lines we draw that say who can do what. It’s about women finding their way.
Jess: So we’re lost? You’re the ones who can’t find the milk in the fridge and we’re lost?
Abe: Maybe. Maybe not. You have to figure it out by yourself. I have no opinion here.
Brian: Then what’s the point?
The three look at him blankly.
Abe: Sorry?
Brian: Then what’s the point? You’re trying to get these ladies to your show, sounds like you’re an artist, right?
Abe: Yeah. I mean—
Brian: Well, being an artist means by definition you have a point of view. And a strong one.
Jess: I’m going.
Abe: I do. But, when…
Brian: But nothing then.
Sara: Abe, we’re going.
Abe: Okay. Seriously, come down.
Jess and Sara leave.
Abe: Well, you wouldn’t get it.
Brian: Listen, it’s like any game where someone gets hit. You gotta go out and you gotta do what you think is right. If the audience likes it and gets it, great. If not, well…tough luck. For an actor, your main responsibility is to the playwright. Second is to yourself. The whole idea for the audience is not that they learn something about the piece, or about you, but about themselves. They should be changed somehow.
Abe: Acting is different, though. You have a script, you have a director, you have everyone setting up the model and you step in. I have to tell a whole story in one image, using my own language. People have to get what I’m saying, how I’m saying it, and why I’m saying it the way I do, PLUS they have to get the image. It’s different.
Brian: It’s different, but you want to believe it’s harder. It’s harder for you because that’s your perspective. See Geoffrey Rush in Exit the King? That was brilliant. I came up in that era, the Theater of the Absurd. No one knew what that play was. No one would ever have known—maybe even the people who saw it still don’t know Eugène Ionesco wrote it. But Rush took that role and everyone went to see it because they knew him and knew Susan Sarandon. Rush is brilliant because the people didn’t get it the first half of the way in. And by the end of it, they all left enraptured.
Abe: Still, an actor has every night to make it new. Or you have some guy with a camera willing to reshoot until you get it right. For me, it’s like I strip and I stand there and I hope no one sees my hairy ass or the pimples hanging off my shoulder or the gut I’m growing and they just listen to what I’m spewing.
Matt (smiles and throws a familiar nod at Brian): This rounds on me.
Brian: So? That’s truth. Look at Philip Seymour Hoffman and what he’s doing with his group. He’s looking for truth there. The objective of any artist is trying to find some truth to share. It may only be the character’s truth, but that’s ok.
Abe: I have a truth and I know it’s real but if no one else sees it, is it true? It’s definitely not real if they see the wrong truth.
Brian laughs.
Christine enters. Slightly leaning to one side. She’s wearing a plaid jacket that is missing one elbow patch, mechanic’s pants and tall black combat boots. She stares at Brian. Brian stares back. The bar goes quiet.


SCENE II: Steady Simmering

Brian’s phone rings. He steps outside to answer it.
Christine (turns to Abe): You know who you’re talking to?
Abe: No.
Matt: What can I get you Christine?
Christine: You sitting there and—
Matt: Leave it alone. What are you having?
Brian comes in.
Christine: Give me a Blue Point.
Brian takes a sip of his drink.
Abe: Are you famous or something?
Brian stares long at Christine.
Abe (looking nervously at Christine then back at Brian): You kinda look familiar.
Brian: I get around.
Christine: You were in Rambo.
Matt: First Blood.
Abe: What?
Matt: The original was called First Blood. The sequels were called Rambo.
Brian: Yeah.
Christine: What are you doing here?
Abe: That’s it! You were the cop in Rambo! That’s cool man. What are you doing now? Stage?
Brian: Yeah. And I’m doing Alleged, a film by Fred Foote that tells the story from the standpoint of the town during the “Scopes Monkey” trial in the twenties. It’s a town desperate for some industry. The trials are a hustle for a little attention.
Christine: That’s like life imitating art imitating life imitating art again—You did Inherit the Wind, the play about that trial.
Brian: (Laughs) Maybe I’m getting too old to still be acting. But there’s an intellectual-emotional inquiry that’s hard to give up.
Christine: Or maybe it’s about the fame and money.
Brian: (Laughs) I do okay. But celebrity? I’m not putting it down, but to me, it’s bull sh$t. I never cared about that.
Christine: Then why do you keep doing it?
Brian: There’s something really fascinating about the compartmentalization of reality. You take a character. A maniacal, horrible monster who kills and does I don’t know what, and then goes home and plays with his kids. You show the audience that he’s a man, more than a monster. And you find that what’s so terrifying is to discover his normalcy.
Abe: What else did you do?
Brian: You can look it up—it’s boring, that recitation of facts. There’s nothing particularly interesting about what I do. Unless you sit in an audience and watch a play by Shakespeare or O’Neill and learn something new.
Abe: How come I never seen you do endorsements and that usual stuff?
Brian: I do a few.
Abe: Only the ones you believe in or something?
Brian: Believed? They paid the bills. Nobody believes in anything—this is America!

SCENE III: Public, Served

A thirty-something man is seated at the middle of the bar. Christine is four chairs to the left, Abe is at the bend in the “L” three to the right and Brian is alone at the foot. The man’s sleeves are rolled and his tie is loose. His suit jacket is over the seat to his left. His elbows are up on the bar, he’s scrolling through his Blackberry. Without looking up he orders…

The man: Stella.
Matt: Don’t have it.
The man: Hennessy.
Matt: Don’t…have it.
The man (looking out from the side of his Blackberry): You got Bombay, you know, GIN?
(Matt doesn’t say anything.)
The man (looking at the three drinks on the bar): Any one of these then.
(Matt serves him a Blue Point.)
The man (looking back at Brian): Hey, aren’t you on Law & Order? I’ve seen you around. You did Cocoon? You did Rambo! Holy f@ck! You did Rambo!
Matt: First Blood.
(No one says anything. A second man walks into the bar wearing a modest suit. Rumpled.)
Matt: Hey Tim. How’s the campaign?
Tim: Good. (He takes a seat between The man and Abe.) People are warming up. I think they like what I’m saying about the schools.
Matt (passing Tim a Guinness): You eating tonight?
Tim: Yeah. Thanks.
Brian: What are you running for?
Tim: Legislator.
(The man starts making a call.)
Matt (leaning in): No cell phones.
The man: What? Hello? Wait. (Back to Matt) What?
Matt: Take it outside.
(The man exits slowly, staring at Matt.)
Brian: What are you saying about the schools?
Tim: Kids should be able to go wherever they want, makes it more competitive.
Brian: What else you selling?
Tim: We have a hunger problem on this island that nobody wants to talk about.
Brian: Hunger’s not sexy. How you going to sell that?
Tim: It affects everyone. When you have 10 percent of the people on this island who can’t afford food, it affects the quality of life for the other 90 percent. You know Island Harvest? They’re feeding about 260,000 people every day, and over 90,000 are kids. We have the richest towns in the world right here. People only have to do a little to make a big difference.
Brian: I do some work with Island Harvest. I went to school with Mike Manzer over there and I got involved because of him. When I realized what they were doing there, it became intellectually interesting for me. They’re doing extraordinary things there.
Tim: Yeah, good group.
Brian: I did a commercial for them. Me and this girl. The deal was she was going to eat a bowl of something and I was going to sit there with her and talk into the camera while she ate. So I told her beforehand, ‘Now, don’t eat too much. Because we’re going to have to do this maybe 15 or 16 times until we get it.’ And you know, every time they put the bowl in front her she ate and ate and ate. And even when we stopped, they couldn’t take the bowl until she finished it all. She was starving. Right here on Long Island, amidst all this wealth. Now I don’t know much, but I know it’s not her fault. And if you could help fix that—
The man comes back into the bar with a young woman
The man: Woah! So where were we? (turning to Tim): Think you could move down one?
The woman (walking over to Abe): Abe Smits? Wow! I haven’t seen you since grammar school.
(Abe nods without looking up.)
The woman: So what are you doing? I work in the city. I do marketing. Well, kinda, I’m a promoter for these clubs. It’s great—I meet a lot of great people. Our clientele is all upscale. Really great. A lot of Wall Street people, fashion types, celebrities. Everyone. (She continuously peers over at Brian.)
The man: What are you drinki—
Matt: I called last call.
The Woman (to Brian): You’re the one from—
The man: I want to by her a drink.
The Woman: Rambo? With Stallone?
The man: I got people coming down here. It’s like 8:45! What are you talking about last call?
(No one says anything. Matt is polishing glasses.)
The man: Did you hear me? I got people coming. You could make your whole year’s tab tonight.
Matt: Then it’s too bad we’re closed. (He rings the register and puts a bill down on the counter next to the man’s drink.)
The man: F@ck it. You don’t have anything anyone could drink. I thought I’d do you a solid, bring you some business, let you capitalize on your star power. (He defiantly throws two twenties on the bar.) It’s on me. Wash ups. Let’s go Lindsey.
(They exit. A bell rings in the kitchen. Matt leaves and comes back with a burger for Tim.)

SCENE IV: Set ‘em Up Joe

Tim: What was it like working with Sylvester Stallone?
Brian: That’s a guy I respect. He ripped his career out of the heart of Hollywood. He would not be denied. He forced himself on the American public. He bent that business to his will. And that’s not easy. I always admired Stallone.
Christine: Matt, one more.
Matt: Gig tonight?
Christine: Yeah. New drummer’s working out pretty okay. Band’s good. Music’s good. But still not much happening out here for us. Grabbing the 9:20 to the city. Jazz is as dead as America in the suburbs.
Brian: Jazz? Man! Getz, Coltrane, Dizzy, Bebop, they’re still living!
Abe: America is still living. She’s just different. It’s our freedom that’s dead. Everyone is looking for the get-rich-quick. The fiction. We’re a drive-thru culture slaves to the quick-fix. No one wants to take the hard way to a better place. No more pioneers. Tim you want to fix schools and hunger? You can’t. No one wants them fixed. You think that guy in here before wants ‘em fixed? He likes ‘em there. He knows the line. And he knows he’s living on the wrong side of it. He likes that. It means he made it or something. Look at his tie. Why don’t you fix that?
Brian, Tim and Matt laugh.
Brian: That’s what’s great about this country—there’s room for everyone.
Abe: Well, America is supposed to be about equality and freedom.
Brian: There is a big dislocate between liberty and equality. And you need both. Freedom has dislocations. I’m not going to say what someone can or can’t do. If you want to be a pig and roll around in your money, I don’t care. But don’t tell me what I can and can’t do. That’s the great thing about this country. You can be free to be an asshole but the thing is that while you’re being an asshole, hopefully you’ll figure out something good you can do.
Tim: I think someone has to draw the line, establish what’s right and what the cultural responsibilities are. That’s what the whole process is about. We elect people to write laws and we hire cops to enforce them. We employ teachers so our kids can learn what’s important. The system is how we measure our value.
Brian: F@ck that. You measure humanity by how you deal with your losers. You want to defend the people on the losing side? Good for you. But you can’t tell me I have to do it because I got more than somebody else. No. F@ck you. You can’t call yourself a man because you go beat up the winners.
Tim: There has to be a line—a responsible society has to decide how much inequality, or hunger or poverty it will stand. There—
Brian: The point is not that there’s a line. Everyone knows there’s a line. The point is: Who gets to draw it?

nada marjanovich

nada marjanovich

Nada Marjanovich is Publisher and Editor of Long Island Pulse Magazine. Prior to founding the title in 2005, she worked extensively in the internet. She's been writing since childhood and has been published for both fiction and poetry.