The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Da begins with the narrator of the play, Charlie, a man in his forties, sitting alone at a kitchen table looking through a pile of family papers. After a moment Oliver, a boyhood friend, enters offering condolences. The man Charlie called “Da” (the word is an Irish diminutive for father) has died, and it is the day of his funeral. Charlie has returned to this, his boyhood home, after the burial, to settle whatever business remains as quickly as possible.

Oliver has not changed much since the days when he and Charlie were friends; in middle age he still acts like an adolescent, which underscores a basic fact about Charlie. He has changed. Now a playwright living in London, he has grown up and bettered himself. To judge by the outward show, he has risen above his origins, and this play catches him on the one day when he is forced to revisit his former life.

Oliver soon leaves, and Charlie is alone in the house, sorting papers and letting his mind wander, until another visitor comes shortly before the end of the play. After this second brief visit, Charlie has finished his business and leaves for London. This is all the play has in the way of real-time plot. Da is a memory play, and the bulk of it is made up of Charlie’s rather noisy reminiscences, as the creatures of Charlie’s memory come onto the stage to play their parts. Da’s ghost, entering the kitchen and blithely discussing the weather at his funeral, is the first of these memory characters to appear. Others follow as they come into Charlie’s memory. One is the memory of Charlie’s younger self, with whom the mature Charlie has a number of comic arguments. The action of the play follows no order but the order of recollection. Each of the two acts is played without interruption, arranged roughly into scenes as Charlie’s mind casts back on the events, significant and insignificant, of his early life.

In this way the basic facts about the family that lived in this house are revealed. Da was a simple and a humble man who worked for fifty-eight years as a gardener for low wages. He took a wife, when very young, in a marriage arranged by himself and his bride’s father. His wife, a stronger-willed person than he, was in love with another man. She acquiesced in the arrangement out of a sense of duty, because of her youth, and because of the hardness of the times. Unable to have children of their own, the couple adopted Charlie, who grew up a bright child and won scholarships in school. When he came of age, he also took menial work, spending fourteen years as a clerk, before escaping to his new life in London. In this incompletely joined family, the tensions and resentments were never resolved or put aside.

Da’s ghost appears, summoned up to contradict Charlie when he tells a routine white lie, even before Oliver leaves. Da is a character full of Irish color. His speech is thick with Irishisms such as “donkey’s years” and “hoot-shaggin’.” He is easygoing, simple in his tastes, regular in his habits, thrifty, stubborn in his opinions, giving of himself, and proud about taking gifts from others. He is, in short, a laborer of a type that was common in the United Kingdom before World...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Da reveals the mind of its protagonist to the audience. Both the organization of the stage and the devices of the storytelling serve this end. The first requirement of the stage is that it be flexible, to follow the play’s fluid narrative. The set is constructed around the kitchen and living room of the Tynan family home. This room was obviously the center of family life, and the stage directions call it “the womb of the play.” The area taken up by the kitchen remains the kitchen throughout the play, and it is the most realistically depicted part of the stage. The space surrounding the kitchen is divided into a number of less defined and more flexible areas. On one side is a neutral area, defined by lighting, which serves as a number of locales that the script requires. Behind and to the other side of the kitchen are areas that serve as a hill in a park and as the seashore.

Only in this way can the stage hold this nonlinear play. The action can skip seamlessly from location to location; the story can jump effortlessly forward and back. At times discrete events happen simultaneously, kept apart by the boundaries on the stage, and at other times characters speak to one another across the boundaries. Charlie can sit at his homely kitchen table while his memory swirls and darts around him, following its own lead. It is here that Da uses the best possibilities of the stage, beautifully showing the mysterious workings of memory.


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Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

Irish History
Leonard's play makes reference to several key events in the history of Ireland. In act 1, Charlie...

(The entire section is 694 words.)

Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

Setting: Time and Place
The present time of Da is set in May, 1968, in Ireland, when Charlie is in his...

(The entire section is 335 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

  • 1919-1921: The Irish Republican Army is established in 1919, replacing the Irish Volunteers (which was founded in...

(The entire section is 429 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

  • Many of the flashbacks in Da take place during the World War II era. Learn more about World War II and the role of the United Kingdom in the war. Reference is also made to Winston Churchill the prime minister of Great Britain during World War II. Learn more about Churchill and his role in the war effort. Write a short story about what it might have been like as a teenager listening to Churchill on the radio, reporting the progression of the war as it neared the British shores.
  • Da is set in Ireland between the 1930s and the 1960s and makes reference to several key incidents in Irish history. Learn more about the history of Ireland, such as the Potato...

(The entire section is 299 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Drama for Students)

Leonard wrote a screenplay adaptation of Da for a 1988 production directed by Matt Clark, starring Martin Sheen as Charlie and Barnard...

(The entire section is 56 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

  • Home Before Night (1979) is Leonard's autobiography, which recounts some of the same incidents that appear in Da....

(The entire section is 136 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Barnett, Gene A. ‘‘Hugh Leonard,’’ in International Dictionary of Theatre, Vol. 2:...

(The entire section is 167 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Gallagher, S. F. “Q. and A. with Hugh Leonard.” Irish Literary Supplement: A Review of Irish Books (Spring, 1990): 13-14.

King, Kimball. Ten Modern Irish Playwrights. New York: Garland, 1979.

Leonard, Hugh. Home Before Night. New York: Atheneum, 1980.

The New Republic. Review of Da. 178 (May 27, 1978): 22-23.

The New Yorker. Review of Da. 104 (March 27, 1978): 96.

O’Grady, Thomas B. “Insubstantial Fathers and Consubstantial Sons: A Note on...

(The entire section is 86 words.)