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Monologues & Solo Plays

Star Turn & A Good Ol’ Boy

“Star Turn” was performed for the Edinburgh Fringe at the Blue Moon Café, Edinburgh from 12 to 29 August 1988 and at various pub venues in October and November 1988. It was presented mainly in a double bill with “A Good Ole Boy” and revived in 1991.

Reviews

London writer Eric Presland has brought two one-act monologues to Edinburgh, both being staged at the Blue Moon Café, and both with gay themes.

“Star Turn”, acted by Simon Kennett, finds an old actor at an “Othello” audition.

Simon Kennett
Simon Kennett in "Star Turn"

There are some wonderfully witty comments on the thespian world, and it doesn’t take too long to realise how desperate this man is for work, to regain the early days when he was a somebody.

On one level it’s quite pathetic, as he bores the younger auditionees with tales of the good old days, how he’s after this part as he’d be “ageing up for it”; but interspersed with this “industry” talk is the story of a court case which ruined him, as a young lover – “starring for the prosecution” – exposes their relationship.

When he gets in to audition he unleashes Shakespeare’s beautiful speech from “Sir Thomas More”, where he confronts a mob set on attacking foreigners just because they’re different, and asks the mob “whither would you go” if they found themselves banished. I found the whole monologue quite moving.

“A Good Ol’ Boy”, acted by Eric Presland, is set in an Alabama backwater and again shows the oppression of gay people, as the Good Ol’ Boy unleashes his opinions on “nigras and white trash sissy boys”.

The piece captures the nuances of folk with those racist and homophobic attitudes. The satire is strong, as is the very gutsy irony.

Presland’s powerful acting creates a character you want to pick up and shake some sense into, all the time knowing, having lived in rural America, that there’s a thousand more like him for every bigot who finally looks beyond skin colour and sexual preference.

Juan Hyde, The Scotsman, 30 August 1988


Eric Presland is always endearing, which is the main problem with his monologue “A Good Ol’ Boy”. He manages to make a racist, cissy-hating Southern US bigot seem very nice really, just misunderstood, in a tale of conversion to grudging liberalism which is too formulaic to overcome its overwhelming sentimentality.

Since there is never a genuine sense of hate from the performance, all you get is the half-hearted character-assassination of a social worker’s report. A pity that Presland’s own script lets down the best acting I’ve seen from him.

While he looks for a better writer, the rest of this double bill desperately needs an actor. Simon Kennett is awful in “Star Turn”, an implausibly constructed melodrama about a film star imprisoned for his relationship with a fifteen-year-old boy. It might set the pulses racing as an “Afternoon Play” [on Radio 4] but in this context it’s simply quaint.
Carl
Miller, City Limits, 6 October 1988


Taking plays around tiny theatre clubs can be soul destroying at the best of times but taking something that you’ve written yourself must be really nerve wracking. Eric Presland has been doing both for some time now, and his latest venture is two monologues performed by both himself and Simon Kennett, each directing the other.

The first piece, which Simon performs, is called “Star Turn”, and concerns an actor jaded by age and haunted by a cruel paedophile court case. A fifteen-year-old black boy idolises the actor, lives with him, and then falls foul of his homophobe sailor father, who prosecutes him and gives the thespian newspaper reviews of a type he never wanted.

The piece has an ironic twist in the tails but is far too long. The actor continually pauses to reminisce, until his lolloping self-pity makes you want to shout, ‘Pull yourself together and get on with it!’ Better pacing, less sentimentality and a little pruning would sharpen up this piece.

The second monologue is acted by Eric himself, and deals with an old Alabama man, whose hatred of ‘nancy boys’ is matched only by his loathing of ‘nigras’. Called “A Good Ol’ Boy”, it shows the man cussing in his dungarees, unknowingly stuck between hating people (but not really knowing why) and wanting to approach them (but not knowing how).

It takes the potential double danger of a ‘nancy boy nigra’ [the line is really ‘cissy boy nigra’ – Ed], who turns out to be very civilised thank you, to jolt the bigot out of his rut. The monologue is very well constructed, well acted and touching.

I can’t help thinking that old ground is covered here; a gay actor getting weepy over his past, an American red neck who’s [sic] idea of a good time is a night out with the Klan. Fairly easy targets really, and it is the handling that should make them different. The scenes with the actor are contrived to include huge chunks of Shakespeare, which make their point about fear of ‘strangers’ but at too great a length.

The second monologue featuring the bigot is the better of the two and perhaps should have been seen first.

Jason Whittaker, Pink Paper, 4 October 1998


These are two new monologues which deal with the subject of prejudice in very different circumstances.

The first is delivered by an ageing ex-film star who is now reduced to auditioning with unknowns for a production of “King Lear” [“Othello” actually – Ed]. As he awaits his audition, he talks to the young actors waiting with him, and to the audience. A sad story of loneliness, failed ambition and thwarted love emerges. The actor has only recently come out of prison after being discovered with his teenaged Indian lover, and now finds himself with no friends and little hope of work.

Some moments of this monologue are very touching, and Simon Kennett, as the actor, evokes just the right kind of bluster which hides a broken spirit.

The second half of the show is performed by Eric Presland himself. He played a typical Southern American redneck who lives on burgers and beer, makes jokes about ‘cissy boys’, and hates blacks with a vengeance. In this short piece, the character makes a complete unexpected progression towards some kind of tolerance, after an incident involving a black man and a gay white man in which he becomes entangled.

Presland is completely convincing and quite menacing too in his explosions of blind hatred, and in the originality of his convictions. There is much humour in the performance too. Asked by his young son why he allowed a certain black man in the house and not another, he replies: ‘Well, that one was an African, and this one was a nigra.’

This monologue is a delight, which makes the show worthwhile.

Kfir Yefet, Capital Gay, 14 October 1988


"Star Turn" is available for performance. Please seek permission from Peter Scott-Presland - email info@homopromos.org

Here is the script for "Star Turn"

Footnote: Eric Presland changed his name to Peter Scott-Presland in 2000. This has made it difficult to identify references to him on the internet. On this site, all performances, scripts etc prior to 2000 are attributed to Eric Presland, later ones to Peter Scott-Presland.


A Good Ol’ Boy

In 1986 I went to America to have a baby. It’s a long story, and maybe I’ll put it into a blog some time. Most of the time I was staying about fifteen miles outside Huntsville, Alabama. Huntsville itself is rich and serves the US military/industrial complex but outside there is the most abject poverty.

Opposite the house I was staying in, there was a tumbledown two-room wooden shack with no electricity or running water. In it were living a poor white family of eight. All their money, which wasn’t much, went on keeping their clapped-out pick-up truck going. Without transport, you die. The father went hand-to-mouth from one seasonal agricultural job to another. A classic sharecropper.

Opposite the house I was staying in, there was a tumbledown two-room wooden shack with no electricity or running water. In it were living a poor white family of eight. All their money, which wasn’t much, went on keeping their clapped-out pick-up truck going. Without transport, you die. The father went hand-to-mouth from one seasonal agricultural job to another. A classic sharecropper.

The other thing which struck me was the sheer number of churches. In the South all churches seem to be self-defined. So, every other house seemed to have a sign outside: “First Church of Christ the Redeemer”, “Second Church of Church the Redeemer” etc. Classic Bible Belt redneck country.

From this background came the idea for “A Good Ol’ Boy”. Like many of my plays, its theme is redemption. I always believe people can be changed, even our enemies. If they can’t be changed, there’s no point in political activism and no help for the world.

Eric Presland in A Good O'l Boy
Eric Presland in "A Good Ol' Boy"

But it can be challenging. So here I asked myself, who would be the most unlikely candidate for redemption, and what would it take to shift him? This story is the answer to that question, and I had the idea that somehow people’s very prejudices could be harnessed as forces for change.

The reviews for this piece are coupled with Star Turn. Several comment that it is ‘soft on a racist’, or that it is in some sense an easy target. Is it soft to suggest that someone might change? Or are we all condemned to eternal conflict with people we disagree with profoundly? Hate is not a productive emotion. As for ‘easy’, well the devil is in the detail.

I have met and known men like these, seen the meanness of their lives, the narrowness and poverty of their experience, and their experience of poverty. Again, unless you can enter into the world of these characters, there is no hope of understanding or redemption. Failure to do so leads to the collapse of liberal democracy.

I have met and known men like these, seen the meanness of their lives, the narrowness and poverty of their experience, and their experience of poverty. Again, unless you can enter into the world of these characters, there is no hope of understanding or redemption. Failure to do so leads to the collapse of liberal democracy.

He tells his life story, back and forth in time, but the focus is on an incident in the restaurant late at night when a gay man attacks a black man who makes a remark about needing plastic plates with all the gays with AIDS around. (This is set in 1986, remember, when many people still thought you could catch it off toilet seats; this was especially true of backward communities, and communities fuelled by fundamentalist religion.)

This precipitates a crisis in his mind, because he can’t decide which he hates the most, nigras or cissy boys. The question is decided when the black man draws a knife on the gay man “Cos there ain’t no black man gonna pull a knife on no white man in Alabama, cissy boy or no cissy boy.” Later the man’s boyfriend comes to thank him for saving his friend’s life. The boyfriend is black. I should also say that the play is very funny, but I hope still retains some sympathy for the central character.

The framing device is a phone call. The Good Ol’ Boy is on his break at work, and hesitating whether to make this call. The call would be to accept a thank-you dinner invitation from the gay couple. He wrestles with his prejudices; the prospect of a good steak dinner for poor white trash is hard to turn down. Will he pick up the phone at the end of the play?

Eric Presland in A Good O'l Boy
Eric Presland in "A Good Ol' Boy"

This play finds its drama both in the violent central incident, and in the conflict within the mind of the character. I was also at the age (39) where I could no longer play cute young things and was looking for a character and a virtuoso piece I could continue to play for a number of years! It was last revived at the Rosemary Branch in Islington in 2002.

Postscript - When I submitted the play to BBC Radio, it was returned with a curt note objecting to the racist language. I forget whether they were upset by the homophobia as well. It is completely beyond me how it is possible to write convincing racist or homophobic characters without employing the language of such characters; and it is important to explore such characters.

Or are we condemned to an eternal world of fluttering fans, in which we die smothered by good heartedness?

"A Good Ol' Boy" is available for performance. Please seek permission from Peter Scott-Presland - email info@homopromos.org

Running time 35 minutes. Here is the script and sound file for "A Good Ol' Boy".