Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Triptych and Iphigenia

by Edna O’Brien

“To the illustrious list of names: Yeats, Joyce, Behan, O’Casey, Beckett, add O’Brien. . . . [She] uses words the way a juggler employs shiny balls, tossing them up, letting them spin, glitter, and reflect off one another in new and startling patterns.” –San Francisco Culture Vulture

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 128
  • Publication Date March 20, 2005
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4154-5
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $13.00

About The Book

With searing acuity, renowned Irish novelist Edna O’Brien presents three women–a mistress, wife, and daughter–who expose their passions for the same man and confront the ways that love can simultaneously liberate and entrap. This lyrical and captivating drama weaves together their stories to construct the portrait of a man through their eyes. Triptych is a powerful work that explores sex, marriage, and predatory relationships.


“Intriguingly original . . . emotionally brave and engagingly clever.” –R. Hurwitt, The San Francisco Chronicle

“To the illustrious list of names: Yeats, Joyce, Behan, O’Casey, Beckett, add O’Brien. . . . [She] uses words the way a juggler employs shiny balls, tossing them up, letting them spin, glitter, and reflect off one another in new and startling patterns.” –San Francisco Culture Vulture

“O’Brien surprises with her poetic sense of longing, the way she paints each woman in all her mysteries.” –Karen D’souza, San Jose Mercury News

Praise for Edna O’Brien:

“O’Brien is a storyteller, an Irish storyteller one, of an ancient tradition of storytellers, people who tell the truth.” –Thomas Cahill, Los Angeles Times Book Review

“The same precision with which she portrays landscape is applied to human emotions; there isn’t a single character in these stories who is unconvincing. O’Brien continues to display acute powers of observation in a prose that is always neat and often immaculate

.” –Louise Doughty, Times Literary Supplement on Latern Slides

“Edna O’Brien is quite simply a wonderful writer of short stories. She is evocative, sensual and technically subtle. Her writing is a real pleasure to read.” –Sara Maitland, The Spectator on Returning

“No one today writes lovelier, fresher, more glowing and more mordant English than Edna O’Brien. Her prose newly mints the oldest, primal emotions, as if no one had perceived them before. Her passion is always controlled, but always passionate. She has a lover’s quarrel with her native Ireland. ‘A pity beyond all telling’, wrote Yeats, ‘Is Hid in the heart of love.’ Under a shy and melting exterior, she has the defiant courage of unflinching integrity. She has an eye, at once compassionate, satirical and implacable, for human folly and for human hope.” –Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

“The great Colette’s mantle has fallen to Edna O’Brien–a darker writer, more full of conflict, O’Brien nonetheless shares the earthiness, the rawness, the chiseled prose, the scars of maturity. she is a consummate stylist and, to my mind, the most gifted woman now writing fiction in English.” –Philip Roth

“O’Brien’s prose is so rich and original, her characters so urgently present, that a strange kind of elation is induced, reading about events that arouse our deepest fears.” –Mirabella

“What amazes in book after book is O’Brien’s hypnotically seductive storytelling, the power of her mesmerizing language, and her vision into the dark reaches of the human heart.” –The Miami Herald

“O’Brien brings together the earthy and the delicately poetic: she has the soul of Molly Bloom and the skills of Virginia Woolf.” –Newsweek


Music–Jimmy Durante:
When I fall in love
It will be for ever
Or I’ll never
Fall in love
When I give my heart
It will be ” for ever
Stage lighting comes on fully as MISTRESS dressed in black as widowed Duchess of Malfi (circa 1601) stands before her mirror, saying her lines inaudibly. She is clearly nervous. On the bureau a vase of exquisite flowers.
MISTRESS (saying her lines) The misery of us, that are born great,
We are forc’d to woo, because
None dare woo us:
And as a tyrant doubles with his words,
And fearfully equivocates: so we
Are forc’d to express our violent passions
In riddles, and in dreams “
She stops suddenly as in the mirror she sees a hand come around the door, then a woman enter in dark glasses, wearing a long cream raincoat and carrying a large bunch of sunflowers.
WIFE I hope you like sunflowers ” not everybody’s taste, of course ” somewhat glaring ” brazen, but I find them so ” sturdy ” the sunflower.

MISTRESS I think you’ve come to the wrong dressing room.
WIFE (ignoring that) Il Girasole. On a train in Tuscany and Umbria one passes field after field of them ” scorching, my honeymoon, our honeymoon was in pensions in Umbria ” field after field of hot flowers ” the bedrooms so cool ” shutters drawn, dark brown furniture, dark brown fourposters ” and the linen starched so stiff ” it literally crunched when we lay on it ” yes, the bedroom so cold and chaste and the fields so very hot and the lovers so ardent (brusque) not married, are you? ” no little kids to grace the walls ” a dressing room is quite a lonely place.
MISTRESS Who are you?
WIFE A stranger ” just popped by to wish you well on your opening night and give you a flower ” not at all as beautiful as those (examining the flowers in the vase) someone with more taste than moi ” an admirer (nostalgic) it brings me back ” how it brings me back ” I was an actress, too ” ing”nue ” I had a future, people compared me to some of the greats ” then cupid struck in the form of a young man who just decided to hang around the stage door, pestering me, the way I am pestering you ” just waltzed into my life.
MISTRESS I shall have to have you removed.
WIFE Not before I wish you well. I bet you’re superstitious, especially on a night like this ” all jitters.
MISTRESS How did you get in here?
WIFE The door was ajar. I walked in and walked down the stairs, simple. And now, I will vanish, like the sisters in that Scottish play, which we don’t mention ” Good luck, Duchess.
Woman puts down the flowers and goes.
Mistress picks up the flowers, then unnerved, throws them down.
VOICE OF STAGE MANAGER Ladies and Gentlemen of the Duchess of Malfi Company: Please take your places for the top of the show. Places, please, for the top of the show.
Mistress walks over the flowers and toward the stairs. She ascends it holding up her costume.
Lights go slowly down.
Dulcimer music of the period is intermingled with a collage of lines from The Duchess of Malfi as the wind rises and gathers to a storm.
The vase of flowers overturns and the exquisite flowers fall to the floor. All the flowers blow around the stage, up, down, and around, omens of what is to come.
Loud clapping offstage. Lights back on.
Mistress, out of her costume, wears a kimono. The Wife has returned.
Wife has the sleeves of her coat rolled up and is wearing elbow-length black velvet gloves; she is clapping and smiling.
WIFE Bravo ” Bravo. You were wonderful ” wonderful ” I loved just before you were strangled when you said, “Give my little boy some syrup for his cough.” So beautiful “
MISTRESS (crisp) Thank you.
WIFE When is your birthday? ” Wouldn’t it be funny if we had the same birthday?
MISTRESS Why would it be funny?
WIFE (mock serious) Destiny.
MISTRESS (holding the door open) If you will excuse me ” I have friends waiting.
WIFE Of course you have. (theatrical) Then I’ll go pray; no, I’ll go curse the stars.
Wife goes out.
Mistress picks up the broken vase and some of the flowers.
The telephone rings and she jumps, then goes tentatively to answer it. As she listens her expression changes to a smile.
MISTRESS Yes, of course I know ” How do I know? ” Henry ” I can’t see you ” I cannot. (She listens, her smile happier.) You know very well why ” you are a married man and I have been down that road before. (emphatic) It’s hell. What’s hell about it?–when the married man goes home. Of course I want to ” (whisper) you know that. (anxious) There’s been a crazy woman in here ” it’s been a very crazy night ” storm ” oh, it went well ” so they say ” thank you for the exquisite flowers ” by the way, I thought you were in the country ” you what? ” (She cradles the phone between mouth and ear.) All right then ” just one drink ” one night cap ” promise ” promise ” I have to do an interview tomorrow morning and you are not a free man.
Lights crossfade to bright light in Wife’s area.
Very loud blues music–Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin.
Wife is a little drunk as she dances and sings to the music. She is wearing a sleeveless vest and a very short skirt. She veers from anger to false cheer, sometimes dancing, skipping the songs as her mood and temper alter. At times she talks back to the music.
WIFE (mimicking the Mistress) “I think you’ve come to the wrong dressing room ” If you will excuse me, I have friends waiting.”
BRANDY, her daughter, enters, wearing a miniskirt and bright socks.
DAUGHTER Partying! All by yourself ” Poor Mommy.
WIFE You look ridiculous.
DAUGHTER This one must be something ” what does she do? Cat-walk?
WIFE She’s an actress.
WIFE Look Brandy, you’ve got to stand by me. You’ve got to say, ‘don’t do it, Daddy ” don’t, don’t do it.”
DAUGHTER (angry) I hate this fucking house ” scenes, fights, tears ” Daddy can’t stand it ” that’s why he goes to the country. ” He can’t work with a crazy woman like you.
WIFE (quietly) Brandy. I need you. You have got to stand by me in this ” it’s for everyone’s sake.
DAUGHTER What’s so different about her?
WIFE She’ll play one of his heroines–a slut.
DAUGHTER You’re nuts.
Daughter goes into her own area.
On a board, pinups of her favorite rock stars and her father. She kisses her father’s face.
DAUGHTER Silly Daddy ” silly silly Daddy, (scolding voice) I’m watching you.
Daughter begins to pin the sheet to the wall.
DAUGHTER All my friends adore him ” Two of them have crushes on him ” They ask for his autograph because he’s quite famous ” he comes to school on opening day with my mother, my mother wearing stupid clothes and clunky jewelry ” of course I prefer him ” One Christmas Eve it was snowing and he lifted me out of bed and said (conspiratorial voice), “Would you like to see the tree in Rockefeller Center?” and he put Mummy’s fur coat over me and we snuck out and got into a cab ” it was magic, the tree, the lights, the snow, couples ice-skating after midnight, and my father holding me in a long fur coat, and people looking at us as if we were lovers. Yes, lovers.
Early morning. Light in Mistress’s area. She is wearing jeans, hair tossed, bemused.
MISTRESS Oh God, oh God, oh God ” I did show some gumption ” at first, but then his hand, his thief’s hand, came under my skirt and he said, “You could not have put those stockings and those garters on just to go straight home,” and I said, “You could be right, Henry, you could be right.”
Wife in Daughter’s area.
Daughter reading a magazine interview.
DAUGHTER Actress tells why she takes on difficult roles.
WIFE (brisk) Go on.
DAUGHTER (scanning) Her deep entreating voice, her tragic heroines ” (skipping) “Oriental fury,” the pathos of a disappointed queen “
WIFE Her years.
DAUGHTER Doesn’t say.
WIFE “Course it doesn’t say. (intent voice) A long lock of her hair.
DAUGHTER Not the voodoo crap that the maid did with snake oil and chicken’s blood.
WIFE Yes, the voodoo crap with snake oil and cockerel’s blood.
DAUGHTER (cutting in) It’s ghoulish.
WIFE It worked on her husband.
DAUGHTER He got run over.
WIFE He had it coming. (sweeter voice) O, my precious snake oil and warm cockerel’s blood, unhair her head, dim her eyes (vicious) ” This malefaction must be stopped ” a cuckoo in our nest.
DAUGHTER I hate it when you act.
WIFE Make her dull of tongue and dwarfish ” a poor pastiche of what she was “
DAUGHTER You should put yourself up for auditions ” bit parts “
WIFE This is not acting ” feel my pulse ” the man’s gone mad ” Her gypsy’s lust.
Mistress takes up the story.
MISTRESS (on the floor or stretched on staircase) Your hair ” your hair ” kept going on about my hair ” We mustn’t fall in love, I said ” speak for yourself, he said ” Ran his forehead all along the wall ” (imitating Henry) I am dying, Egypt ” dying. It was there, no, not there. There. (She kisses the wall.) Anyone could have come in; says to expect him at all hours, he’ll get a stepladder, bribe the man at the stage door, (rueful) I am dying, Egypt ” dying.
Wife has come across to eavesdrop.
DAUGHTER (calls across) Mummy. What is love?
WIFE Ask your father. Ask his whore.