The Man Who Knows

SCENE: Medical patient room. Seated are STEPHEN (patient) and DR. COUGHLAN.

DR. COUGHLAN: So, tell me, what are we looking at today?

STEPHEN: I am not a man.

DR. COUGHLAN: (taken back.) Sir, my sincerest apologies, but I do not understand what it is you are implying.

STEPHEN: Implying? I’ve said what I’ve said. I am not a man.

DR. COUGHLAN: Okay . . . Well, will you explain to me then what you exactly mean by that? You don’t believe you are a man?

STEPHEN: I am not a man. (lets out a huff and a puff.) I have read many books, attended many lectures, consulted educated people – I even acquired a Ph.D. in anthropology. I am not a man.

DR. COUGHLAN: Sir, be clear, please. How do you know you are not a man?

STEPHEN: There are men who find beauty in the meaning and the meaninglessness of the world. I do not see beauty in either.

DR. COUGHLAN: What does that have to do with you being a man or not?

STEPHEN: (sighs.) Everything . . .

 DR. COUGHLAN: Okay, sir. I am going to step out a moment to have a discussion with a colleague who is an expert in such matters.

STEPHEN: Certainly.

(DR. COUGHLAN exits.)


SCENE: DR. O’TOOLE’s office. DR. O’TOOLE (expert colleague) is sitting at his desk, rummaging through a large stock of medical notes. A knock comes at the door.

DR. O’TOOLE: (lifting head.) Come in.


DR. COUGHLAN: I’m sorry to bother you, Doctor, but I have a madman waiting on me.

DR. O’TOOLE: (excitedly.) A madman?

DR. COUGHLAN: Yes. He is quite sure he is not a man.

DR. O’TOOLE: (even more excitedly.) Not a man?

DR. COUGHLAN: Yes. And I don’t believe it is one of those ‘I am a woman in a man’s body’ cases.

DR. O’TOOLE: Thank God.

DR. COUGHLAN: Yes, thank God. (crosses himself.) I am inclined to believe he believes he is really not a man.

DR. O’TOOLE: Well, you’ve piqued my interest, Doctor Coughlan.

DR. COUGHLAN: I wouldn’t have disturbed you if I wasn’t sure I would. Will you accompany me? (gestures toward the door.)

 DR. O’TOOLE: (rising.) With pleasure.



SCENE: Patient room. STEPHEN seated, twiddling his thumbs. At the other side of the door DR. COUGHLAN and DR. O’TOOLE are munching on cookies.

DR. O’TOOLE: (mouth full.) She needs a better hiding spot.

DR. COUGHLAN: No, no . . . I like this one perfectly fine.

(The doctors laugh, though both commit to an intelligible and professional physiognomy when entering the room.)

DR. COUGHLAN: Stephen, this is Doctor O’Toole. The expert I was telling you about.

(STEPHEN stands and shakes DR. O’TOOLE’s hand.)

DR. O’TOOLE: (shaking hands.) Nice to meet you, Stephen. (releases handshake.) Quite a handshake you’ve got there. How can I be of help?

STEPHEN: (bluntly.) I am not a man.

DR. O’TOOLE: Forgive me. I am rather slow in the mornings. You are not a man?

STEPHEN: (even more bluntly.) I am not a man.

DR. O’TOOLE: I see . . . I see. And how have you come to such a conclusion?

STEPHEN: I do not see beauty in the nothingness nor somethingness of the world.

DR. O’TOOLE: (stroking chin.) Okay . . . Okay. And what does that have to do with you not being a man?

STEPHEN: (inhales all the way in and then exhales all the way out.) Everything.

DR. O’TOOLE: (to STEPHEN.) Excuse me, sir. (turns to DR. COUGHLAN.) Doctor Coughlan, would you join me outside a moment?

(DR. O’TOOLE and DR. COUGHLAN exit to the other side of the door.)

DR. O’TOOLE: I think you are right, Doctor Coughlan. I’d say he is mad.

DR. COUGHLAN: He is certainly an anomalous case.

DR. O’TOOLE: Indeed. I am thinking of running some tests.

DR. COUGHLAN: Certainly. What did you have in mind?

DR. O’TOOLE: Oh, just something new that I’ve been working on.

DR. COUGHLAN: I’m intrigued.

DR. O’TOOLE: We will commence with conventional methods, displaying standard stimulus to quantify the faculty of his brain receptors, then we will venture into more (pauses. smiles.) contemporary proceedings. The back room is already prepared.

DR. COUGHLAN: (gesturing.) After you.

(DR. COUGHLAN trails DR. O’TOOLE’s exit.)


SCENE: Patient room (“back room.”) Rather plain interior with a desk, filing cabinet, and small window. DR. COUGHLAN and DR. O’TOOLE are seated, munching on cookies, spilling crumbs everywhere. NURSE escorts STEPHEN to the other side of the door.

NURSE: The doctors are waiting for you, sir.

(Enter STEPHEN.)

DR. O’TOOLE: There’s our man. Doctor Coughlan and I believe it is necessary to run some tests to gain some insight into your . . . What shall we call it? Condition.

STEPHEN: (indignantly.) I do not have a condition.

DR. O’TOOLE: Apologies, wrong word. Let us say . . . Predicament?

STEPHEN: (indignantly.) Fine.

DR. O’TOOLE: Would you like some water before we begin?


DR. O’TOOLE: Well, then, away we go. (turns to DR. COUGHLAN.) Doctor, if you’d be so kind.

DR. COUGHLAN: (nods.) So, Stephen, I am going to present images to you, and all I’d like for you to do is express the first word that comes to mind. Think of it as a little game.


(The testing begins – DR. COUGHLAN’s back is turned to the audience while presenting images to STEPHEN. DR. O’TOOLE looks on interestedly.)

STEPHEN: (receptively.) Blue. Yellow. Desk. Children. Sky. War.

DR. O’TOOLE: Doctor Coughlan, would you step outside with me a moment?

(DR. COUGHLAN accompanies DR. O’TOOLE out of the room to the other side of the door. STEPHEN commences twiddling his thumbs in the patient room, occasionally sighing deeply.)

DR. COUGHLAN: Well, he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed.

DR. O’TOOLE: Indeed. Short of a few marbles, he is.

DR. COUGHLAN: I want whatever he’s got.

(The doctors laugh loudly, frustrating STEPHEN. DR. COUGHLAN holds up a shush sign and the doctors quiet down, grinning cheekily. NURSE (owner of pilfered biscuits) comes past the doctors, giving them both an evil look. NURSE exits and doctors commence giggling. STEPHEN dozes off in the patient room.)

DR. O’TOOLE: He is mad.

DR. COUGHLAN: Yes. No doubt.

DR. O’TOOLE: Back to work?

DR. COUGHLAN: If you say so.

(Enter doctors.)

DR. O’TOOLE: (awaking Stephen gently.) Apologies, sir. We had to set up the following tests.

STEPHEN: More tests? Why?

DR. O’TOOLE: Well, Stephen, you’ve presented us with a rather complex matter.

STEPHEN: (bluntly.) I have presented you a fact.

DR. O’TOOLE: Yes, yes, a fact . . . Well, not to worry, we’ll get you out of here in no time. And the tests to follow will be a little more . . . Let’s see, what word seems fitting . . . Practical. Yes, a little more practical.


DR. O’TOOLE: (turning to DR. COUGHLAN.) Doctor, if you would be so kind.

DR. COUGHLAN: Certainly. This test will operate similarly to the last. However, Stephen, now I would like you to report, with any language you see fit, what is it you feel when encountering the stimuli we shall produce.


(At the other side of the door arrives a poet wearing a worn ulster coat, holding a small notebook and a pen. DR. O’TOOLE goes to the door and knocks three times. Enter POET.)

DR. O’TOOLE: Bonjour, Monsieur.

POET: Bonjour.

DR. O’TOOLE: Please, begin.

POET: Certainly. (clears throat.) (rhythmically.)

One of the first to read my soul.

One of the first to dive deep.

Dutch by birth, a beauty strong n’ bold

Her charm was so very rare, a gift of her own mold I was told.

How stunning she appeared reposed by the Rhine with her wine . . .

She dove, she did, she dove n’ dove, writing, too, from time to time

That is, of course, only once leaving from the depths of me.

No currency to visit; she was o’ so far away

The closer one becomes, it would seem, the farther one decides to stay.

Though maybe I will see her tomorrow,

For tomorrow is a million miles away.

DR. COUGHLAN: Stephen?

STEPHEN: Nothing.

DR. O’TOOLE: (to POET.) Another, if you’d be so kind, sir.

POET: Certainly. (clears his throat once more, more audibly this time, before speaking again in a rhythm.)

A cigarette butt facing up –

one can look, but

never touch (only at moments

can one ever really see her).

As she leaves she allows

but a taste (and when she’s gone

one knows how much

he really needs her). If I’m lucky,

at dawn, she will come again

(and I’ll be awake to greet her).

DR. COUGHLAN: Stephen?

STEPHEN: Nothing.

(POET drops his shoulders, appearing extraordinarily discouraged.)

DR. O’TOOLE: (to POET.) Last one, if you would, sir.

POET: (uncurls his shoulders, posturing himself as if he were a victorious streetfighter with females in attendance. POET breathes in and out deeply, steadying himself.) (rhythmically.)

Time is endlessness with an end:

Splattered candles sprawled out

Amid a valley of kindling and unkindled flames

Burning steadily aloft a world burning.

Rhyme is the water the poet handles

When facing the scorch that leaves his fingers black –

Failure follows failure. Time follows time.

Though the poet still chooses to manipulate his precious words

As they choose to manipulate him. Time is endlessness with an …

DR. COUGHLAN: (seemingly moved.) Stephen?

STEPHEN: Nothing.

DR. O’TOOLE: (to POET.) Thank you, sir. That will be all.

POET: (wipes a lone, fallen tear from his left eye, then sniffles violently.) Allergies.

(POET exits. Arriving at the other side of the door is a woman. She is wearing a white cropped top and short frayed jean shorts. She has breasts the size of melons, buttocks plump and round, toned legs, a flat stomach with a piercing adorning her belly button, toenails painted with a fresh red coat, and one of the prettiest faces in Dublin. DR. O’TOOLE goes to the door, knocking once more, this time administering four knocks. Enter WOMAN.) 

WOMAN: Dia duit.

DR. O’TOOLE: Bonjour. You may commence.

(WOMAN strips down to her bare skin with practiced patience. Only her high heels remain.)

DR. COUGHLAN: (crossing his legs swiftly.) Stephen?

STEPHEN: Nothing.

DR. O’TOOLE: (to WOMAN.) You may proceed, please.

(WOMAN rapidly drops into the splits. DR. COUGHLAN, who had been taking to a glass of water, sprays the room. Once DR. COUGHLAN and the mist settles, he again asks of Stephen his response.)

STEPHEN: Nothing.

DR. O’TOOLE: (to WOMAN.) Thank you for your time.

(WOMAN dresses then exits. Arriving at the other side of the door is a strong-armed man holding two splendid landscape paintings borrowed from The National Museum of Ireland. DR. O’TOOLE goes to the door, knocking once. Enter MAN. DR. O’TOOLE gestures to MAN to begin. MAN takes paintings over to STEPHEN, exhibiting them to STEPHEN one after the other.)

DR. COUGHLAN: Stephen, what is it you feel?

STEPHEN: Nothing.

(DR. O’TOOLE gestures to MAN to bring the paintings closer to STEPHEN. MAN steps forward with paintings, exhibiting them individually once more.)

STEPHEN: Nothing.

DR. O’TOOLE: (to MAN.) Closer, please.

(MAN advances. Repeats procedure.)

STEPHEN: Nothing.

DR. O’TOOLE: (to MAN.) Closer, please.

(MAN advances. Repeats procedure.)

 STEPHEN: Nothing.

DR. O’TOOLE: (to MAN.) Closer, please.

(MAN advances. Obeying the requests of DR. O’TOOLE, MAN brings one of the paintings so close to STEPHEN’s face that the painting appears to be coming into contact with STEPHEN’S forehead. MAN repeats procedure.)

 DR. COUGHLAN: Stephen?

STEPHEN: Nothing.

DR. O’TOOLE: (to MAN.) That’s enough, sir. Thank you for your assistance.

(MAN exits. Arriving at the other side of the door are three midgets. DR. O’TOOLE goes to the door, dispatching two knocks. Enter midgets. STEPHEN does not notice the midgets enter the room at first, overlooking their compact frames, but once he manages to discern them, he looks curiously at DR. O’TOOLE.)

DR. O’TOOLE: (to midgets.) You may begin, sirs.

(A moment of silence.)

MIDGET 1: (to MIDGET 2.) Come here, you bastard!

(The midgets commence wrestling. In time, MIDGET 3 climbs atop the filing cabinet before launching himself (not very high into the air), coming down upon the other two midgets (MIDGET 1 has MIDGET 2 in a headlock before the crash landing). Looking on, both DR. COUGHLAN and DR. O’TOOLE appear to be holding back hysterical laughter with great command of self.)

DR. COUGHLAN: Stephen?

STEPHEN: Nothing.

DR. O’TOOLE: (to midgets.) Thank you for your excellent service, gentlemen.

(Midgets exit to the other side of the door and commence wrestling again. DR. O’TOOLE gestures to DR. COUGHLAN to join him outside. The doctors exit and observe the wrestling attentively, like dedicated sports fans. Both DR. COUGHLAN and DR. O’TOOLE finally relieve themselves of their urge to laugh.)

DR. COUGHLAN: (still laughing.) Quiet, quiet. He’ll hear us.

(STEPHEN hears them laughing because whoever was last to leave the room left the door wide open.)

DR. O’TOOLE: Oh, I almost forgot! (DR. O’TOOLE returns to the back room, handing Stephen a pink pill.) Water helps. (DR. O’TOOLE exits to the other side of the door, rejoining DR. COUGHLAN. In the back room STEPHEN takes the pill dry.) (to DR. COUGHLAN.) I have one final sequence of examination. Then, if we are yet to discover anything of use to the practice of medicine, we will have to resume at a later date.

DR.COUGHLAN: Are you sure? I believe he is my new favourite patient.

DR. O’TOOLE: (chuckling.) Even better than Mrs. Joyce?

DR. COUGHLAN: Now, Doctor, that is a close one . . . But, yes, I believe so. She does still believe checkups for cancer in the breast occur once a week – the charitable soul.

DR. O’TOOLE: (nudging DR. COUGHLAN childishly.) You dog, you. (DR. COUGHLAN barks emphatically.) (stunned.) Not too shabby of a bark on him either.

DR. COUGHLAN: My bark is like lasagne, Doctor, only gets better with the days. (the doctors laugh like school kids. In the back room STEPHEN appears to be seeing things due to his consumption of the pink pill.) You know, Doctor, I read an interesting article the other day. The writer said the future was something that could be sculpted, but only with the tools on hand in the present. It made me think about a woman I once engaged the company of who said the time on her clock was running backward, and all she wished for was to marry. It made me realize how content people are, walking in the darkness of the world, to let the dimmest of lights navigate their path when they could wait just a short time for the sun to rise.

DR. O’TOOLE: (shocked.) I believe, Doctor, in all our years of working together, that is the most poetic thing I’ve heard you say.

DR. COUGHLAN: (sentimentally.) I suppose the sight of that dwarf Swanton-bombing off the filing cabinet has put me in a Parnassian mood. A complete embracement of self that was, courageous little fellow . . .

DR. O’TOOLE: Well, back to work?

(DR. COUGHLAN nods. When DR. COUGHLAN and DR. O’TOOLE return to the back room, DR. O’TOOLE informs STEPHEN there is one last test to run.)

STEPHEN: (huffs and puffs.) (indignantly.) Okay.

(DR. O’TOOLE gestures to DR. COUGHLAN to commence.)

DR. COUGHLAN: Stephen, things will again run in a similar fashion. However, this time we may ask you to do certain things. When asked for your response, just like last time, please again express what it is you feel.


DR. COUGHLAN: Stephen, walk over to the window, open it, and look out onto the garden, please. (STEPHEN does as instructed.) And?

STEPHEN: Nothing.

(DR. O’TOOLE retrieves a jar filled with water from the sea and passes it to DR. COUGHLAN.)

DR. COUGHLAN: Stephen (hands the jar to STEPHEN.), smell the contents of this jar.

STEPHEN: (takes a healthy whiff.) Nothing.

(Arriving at the other side of the door is WOMAN already nude, wearing only heels. DR. O’TOOLE goes to the door and knocks four times. Enter WOMAN.)

DR. COUGHLAN: Stephen, please walk over to the woman and feel her breast. Either one will do. (STEPHEN walks over to the woman, placing one hand upon each breast.) Stephen? STEPHEN: Nothing.

(WOMAN is not at all discouraged by STEPHEN’S response. WOMAN wears an expression illustrating she believes STEPHEN, in simple terms, is completely out of his mind.)

DR. COUGHLAN: Stephen, place one of your hands upon whichever buttock you choose. (STEPHEN places one hand upon each of the woman’s buttocks.) And?

STEPHEN: Nothing.

DR. O’TOOLE: (to WOMAN.) Thank you again for your time and effort in furthering the practice of medicine.

(WOMAN exits, strutting. Arriving at the other side of the door is a waiter, dressed suavely. DR. O’TOOLE goes to the door and knocks twelve times in two separate collections of six musical knocks. WAITER enters, placing down a tray bearing a cloche upon the desk in front of STEPHEN. WAITER lifts the cloche, revealing a plate of whiskey truffles and an Irish coffee. WAITER exits, being thanked on his way out by both doctors. STEPHEN appears abjectly disinterested.)

DR. O’TOOLE: Please, Stephen, enjoy your meal. And, please, take your time.

(STEPHEN takes to his meal. In time DR. COUGHLAN winks at DR. O’TOOLE before asking once again what Stephen felt.)

STEPHEN: Nothing.

(Arriving at the other side of the door is a man whistling, holding a record player. DR. O’TOOLE goes to the door and knocks once. Enter ENGINEER, whistling.)

DR. O’TOOLE: You may begin, sir.

(ENGINEER sets down record player and plays an Irish record.)

DR. O’TOOLE: (swiftly.) Oh, no, no, no, no, sir. Irish music is deafening. Please, something else.

(ENGINEER plays Beethoven. DR. O’TOOLE sends ENGINEER a thumbs-up along with a tradesman’s nod in approval. In time, as everyone present – bar Stephen, of course – is thoroughly enjoying themselves, DR. COUGHLAN waves off the music.)

DR. COUGHLAN: Stephen?

STEPHEN: Nothing.

(DR. O’TOOLE sends another nod to ENGINEER, who then plays a recording of Bach. All the men in the room – again, bar Stephen – enjoy themselves. ENGINEER even begins unifying a collection of invisible musicians. DR. O’TOOLE interrupts ENGINEER, snapping him out of his animated fantasy, returning him to a professional disposition. ENGINEER then lifts the needle.)

DR. COUGHLAN: Stephen?

STEPHEN: Nothing.

DR. O’TOOLE: (to ENGINEER.) Thank you for your efforts, sir. That will be all.

(Exit ENGINEER, whistling once more. STEPHEN, fed up with the absurdity of the abjectly protracted day at the doctor’s office, along with its events, looks over both DR. COUGHLAN and DR. O’TOOLE grimly.)

STEPHEN: I know what I am.

DR. COUGHLAN: (having heard STEPHEN fine.) What was that, sorry?

STEPHEN: I know what I am.

DR. O’TOOLE: (curiously.) What is it you think you are then, sir? If you are so convinced you are not a man?

STEPHEN: I don’t think I am anything.

DR. O’TOOLE: Well, then, Stephen, tell me . . . What is it you know you are?

(STEPHEN looks both doctors over once more, then smiles as if to himself before exiting. DR. COUGHLAN and DR. O’TOOLE appear dumbfounded.)



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