Good Evening, Mr. Collins
I wrote this paper for the research summary portion of an Irish literature class. The professor thought Tom MacIntyre's play would be something I would enjoy reading and interpreting, which I did. If you have an interest in Collins, I would highly recommend you read the play; it is definitely worthy of your time. I will, however, mention that MacIntyre's play is clearly for an adult audience only, both because of its language and adult themes, and this review is therefore tailored to an adult audience as well.
Good Evening, Mr. Collins
Prior to this assigned reading, I had no familiarity with Tom MacIntyre’s play Good Evening, Mr. Collins. I was unsure of what to expect—positive portrayal, negative rendering or a mixture of both—but I could not wait for it to arrive in the mail. Once I completed the play, I was most taken with the character depictions; more specifically, MacIntyre’s treatment of de Valera, Collins (of course), and the extraneous cast members. MacIntyre paints de Valera as a pretentious prima donna, Collins as a gallivanting womanizer, Moya as a provocative yet maternal lover, etc. To me, these interpretations make the production worthwhile; moreover, analyzing Good Evening apart from these portrayals is tenuous at best. The chronology and plot of the play are pieced together in a jumbled, non-linear way, making a traditional, straight-forward summary impractical. With that caveat established, I commence the parade of characters.
De Valera is the first person we meet as he scans the auditorium and evaluates his surroundings. Dev appears throughout the play to serve as a narrator of sorts and a means of transition. Next, we see Dev in my favorite parody, wearing a graduation gown and a mortar-board hat. He is lugging around books and lecturing the “class” on Machiavelli. Collins joins in as a class clown heckler, a role he would have played to the hilt. Dev shows up unexpectedly in Act 1, scene 6 to observe the relationship of Michael and Kitty. His character is always aware—or thinks he is—of each situation, be it obvious or obscure. Dev and Collins have a bit of interplay in Act 2 about Collins’ choice to go to America, which he declined. Act 2, scene 6 features Dev teasing Collins about his incorrect prophesy that his own countrymen would not shoot him. At the scene’s conclusion, Dev remarks of Collins, “He’s fucked isn’t he? Don’t blame Dev. But rely on it, he will be blamed” (MacIntyre 209). The last of de Valera is the last of Good Evening. He finishes his glass of whiskey and closes his ledger book as if to say, “My note-taking time is over.”
MacIntyre’s interpretation of de Valera is as humorous as it is, in my opinion, an elaboration of truth. Part of the Collins-de Valera dichotomy lies in their differing personalities and from those distinctions arise numerous caricatures. MacIntyre plays on the image of de Valera as an uptight, ultra-serious dogmatist who left no room for failure and no capacity for opinions that varied from his own. As is often the case, these stereotypes are founded on a morsel of accuracy. De Valera famously (or infamously as some would argue) resented the popularity Collins gained as the common man’s hero. Dev felt as though his sacrifices for Ireland were as good as Collins’ and his education was certainly better. Dev was properly, formally educated and staunchly subscribed to Catholic doctrine. De Valera was a math teacher before turning to politics as a full-time endeavor and, accordingly, it is not difficult to imagine him lecturing as a stuffy professor, bossing Collins and patronizing the audience.
Being the star of the show, Collins is a player in every scene. In the beginning, Michael visits Moya and hurries about the stage with blasts of energy—a characteristic of the true man. Collins speaks to war colleagues and plays mimed tennis matches with Kitty Kiernan. A telling comment about Michael’s relationship with Kitty reads, “You irritate me. An irritant. So I have to deal with you” (170). When Collins is the mock student in Act 1, scene 4, he zings de Valera’s pompous retelling of The Prince. Like a tabloid reporter, he asks Dev, “Is it true that on your recent visit to the United States as Great Leader of the Tribe—ours—is it true that you spent most of your time devotedly fucking your devoted secretary” (173). Collins and Cathal Brugha argue as they did in reality, Collins cracks jokes and sings songs, and he carries on with Hazel Lavery. The last representation of Collins is his lifeless body stretched on a chaise lounge as the cast mourns his death.
There are particular passages that remind me so much of the authentic Michael Collins. Some of these are based on things Collins said or wrote and others reflect his complex personality. For instance, Collins says, “I feel for a spy as I would for a dangerous reptile. . . . We pay them back in their own coin” (166). This is based on Collins’ comments after he engineered Bloody Sunday on November 21, 1920. Collins names his favorite saint: Paul (171). This is also true to Collins because he identified with the journey Paul made from skeptic to devout Christian. Collins’ joke to Dev about “the mare’s egg” echoes Michael’s boyish, fun-loving side (208). When Moya tells Michael that she has a “weakness for the virginal in grown men,” she illuminates the same notion (184). Collins loved stories of Peter Pan and, for all the sex and violence he abided, an innocence remained in him.
The additional members of the cast essentially exist to show Michael’s life. Kitty is made a playful but matter-of-fact woman who has captured Collins’ affection because she challenges him. Michael originally loved Helen, Kitty’s sister. She was more outgoing and social than Kitty and Michael was smitten. Helen chose to marry someone else and, at the wedding, Michael was so upset that he shredded his cloth handkerchief to pieces. Afterward, he dated Kitty and so began the awkward love triangle between he, Kitty, and his best friend, Harry Boland. Moya is made to be a romantic but mothering girlfriend. She clearly cares deeply about Michael and wants him to be safe and happy. Moya was a married woman rumored to be Collins’ mistress and gossip has Moya bearing Michael’s child in secret. She says in the play that she will someday write a book on Collins and throw it on a fire (184). Although authors believe conflicting things, one theory is that Moya wrote memoirs about Collins and was threatened with violence if she did not burn the manuscript.
Not surprisingly, the Laverys are included by MacIntyre. John Lavery is quite minor to the plot; he shows up to paint Collins’ portrait and to further the audience’s understanding of Hazel’s private life. John loves to paint whereas Hazel loves activity. Hazel is really the lover of the play. When Michael is with her, he is sexual and passionate. Around Kitty, Michael is like a friend and for Moya, he is almost an errant adolescent. But for Hazel, Michael is all man. Undoubtedly, Collins would have had this type of relationship in his (albeit brief) lifetime. Allied to the innocent is the wild beast between the sheets, stealing Hazel away from her husband.
Tom MacIntyre gave me a great deal to consider as I read Good Evening. As an amateur Collins biographer, I love to read interpretations of Michael that are new to me and subsequently incorporate them into my understanding of him. In his afterword, MacIntyre says that during his days of writing the play, Collins caused a clap of thunder so loud it rolled his house. Similarly, when I newly started the preface to my own book on Collins (a much-awaited task), I experienced an oddity. I was up late typing and working by lamp light. My computer, lamp, and alarm clock are extremely sensitive to any fluctuation in power and, as I was writing, the light flickered on and off. I disregarded it as an inconvenience and kept going. The light flickered again. This made me angry and I cursed out of fear that this glitch would harm the computer. Finally the light flickered so ferociously it looked like a nightclub strobe. My heart raced and I said, “Ok. I get the point.” I have no doubt it was Michael offering a blessing in his own feisty, prankish way.
MacIntyre, Tom. “Good Evening, Mr. Collins.” The Dazzling Dark. London: Faber and Faber, 1996.