Last month I attended a play in Lismore which was an original work written by Dungarvan man Hank Regan. The play, a comedy, was called ‘God Rest His Soul’ and the general plot centered on a greedy family and a dead man’s will. In what appeared to be a highly unlikely scenario, the brothers of the deceased had taken him from his hospital bed shortly before his passing, placed him in a wheelchair and took him to a solicitor in order to change his will in their favour.
Obviously being very ill, the man was unaware of what was happening, but the two brothers, one propping his head up and the other physically holding his hand while he signed, obtained a new will which was read out after his death. Needless to remark such a dastardly deed did not go unnoticed or unpunished and the aftermath of such exploits led to much hilarity.
I know Hank Regan personally and know that he had the idea for this play several years ago. I had read, on his request, a few of the original drafts for this particular work. I always thought it was a slightly fanciful premise and maybe even too unbelievable. I remember telling him so as well but, thank God, he didn’t listen to me. He persevered and when it was eventually played out on stage for the first time last month, it turned out to be very funny indeed.
But then over the weekend I heard of an incident in New York City that was even more blatant than what the play suggested. Apparently in January last, two men wheeled a dead man through the streets of Manhattan in an office chair to a cheque-cashing facility and tried to cash his Social Security cheque. David J. Dalaia and James O’Hare pushed Virgilio Cintron’s body from the Manhattan apartment that O’Hare and Cintron shared to a Pay-O-Matic (which I assume is a post office like organisation), about a block away. Witnesses saw the two pushing the chair with Cintron flopping from side to side while the two individuals propped him up to keep him from falling off the chair completely. The men then parked the chair outside and went in to cash his $355 cheque. The clerk, who knew Cintron, asked the men where he was, and O’Hare told the clerk that they would go and get him. Meanwhile a police detective who was having lunch at a restaurant next door to the Pay-O-Matic noticed a crowd forming around the chair and what was obviously a dead body in it. The detective called Police and emergency medical technicians arrived just as O’Hare and Dalaia were preparing to wheel Cintron’s body inside to present him to the clerk. Naturally they were both arrested on the spot. Cintron, who was 66, had died of natural causes within the previous 24 hours and Dalaia and O’Hare, both 65, are now facing cheque fraud charges. At least in the play the man was still alive, even if only hanging on by a thread, when the fraud was attempted.
Books, plays, television drama and film often pre-empt life, and not necessarily just as copycat acts where someone gets an idea from a text or screenplay. Probably one of the most famous is the book originally titled Futility or The Wreck of the Titan, which was written by Morgan Robertson and published in 1898, some fourteen years before the Titanic set sail. The fictional story features an ocean liner called Titan, which sinks after striking an iceberg. Just like the Titanic, the Titan sank in April in the North Atlantic and there were not enough lifeboats for the passengers. There are also similarities between the size and speed of the ship and the number people lost in the disaster. Of course it is not a perfect fictional mirror image. The Titan was on her third Atlantic crossing, not her maiden voyage as the Titanic was, and also the circumstances of how she hit the iceberg are quite different, but still the similarities seem to be prophetic.
It is very easy to pass ideas off as fanciful or unrealistic, stating in a condescending manner that ‘it could never happen in real life’, when often ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ is borne out time and time again. I’m sure many of us have had family situations which if they appeared in a soap opera would be deemed far fetched and highly unlikely. There is probably a treasure trove of bizarre drama ideas hidden in the real lives of everyone, if only we took the trouble to write them down.
Sometimes, however, writers take it to the extreme. The recent storyline in Eastenders where a character is buried alive is outrageous. It has happened in real life, but only by the very sick and twisted. To think that an ordinary mother in the East End of London would drug her wayward husband and attempt such a thing is beyond belief. Murder, perhaps; but placing a coffin lid over someone who is obviously alive is too horrific.
Some years ago at home two of our cats had kitten litters quite close together. It seemed to be an impossible situation with what seemed like hundreds of kittens to take care of. We decided we couldn’t keep them all and a humane end was the best thing all round. The necessary equipment was assembled; a biscuit tin, some cotton wool and deadly chloroform. The cotton wool was soaked, the tin lined and the kittens laid into it. It took less than a few seconds to realise that nobody was willing to put the lid on! The kittens were lifted out immediately and the tin discarded. We found homes for a few and although some eventually met a sticky end by a car wheel or two, one of those kittens is still with us and living well into old cat age. If you couldn’t do it to kittens how less likely would it be that you could do it to a human. To be honest I didn’t actually see the programme but read about the plotline and by now it may have played out quite differently, but even still the initial premise is horrible.
We are led to believe that soap opera, which only some might agree is an art form at all, is meant to be some sort of life reflection or social commentary albeit exaggerated. For many, soap opera is a way of reassuring us that our own lives are actually quite good when compared with our fictional counterparts. However, it is important to feed on a balanced mental diet as well as a physical one. I have no issue with television soaps, but if that is your only form of arts indulgence you need to expand your horizons. Locally there is a lot going on. Go and see an art exhibition, attend a play, see a film or read a book that you wouldn’t normally be interested in, or maybe even attempt to write your own work. There is treasure waiting in such exploration and sometimes you don’t even have to dig that hard for it.