Play – The Program

1.

A projector screen at stage centre. Newscaster RYAN DE SILVA’s face appears onscreen. He is formally dressed, well-groomed, poised and almost artificial in his manner.

RYAN (Onscreen): A very good evening to you, dear citizen of the Republic. Thank you for joining me, Ryan De Silva, on the 9pm news.

Two groups of ASYLUM PATIENTS, dressed in black, enter from both ends of the stage, each led by a WARDEN in white. They stand in rows at either end. PATIENTS at stage left are blindfolded. GABBY, ERIC, KRISTEN and JAEGER are dispersed within the group on the right.

In HOME news: The esteemed government has announced that all mental health institutions will be shut down from 0800 hours tomorrow. Any corresponding or related institution will also be shut down. Government officials have also declared that as of 1700 hours today, all 22,000 individuals suffering from incurable mental instability have been terminated.

BLINDFOLDED PATIENTS on SL suddenly collapse soundlessly. WARDEN on SL exits.

Patients that have passed the ‘Curable Test’ will be cured of their mental illnesses through ‘The Program’ in the comfort of their own homes. They will rejoin us at a later date as fully contributing members of society. The general public is reassured that minimal costs will be borne by the state in the administration of ‘The Program’.

WARDEN on SR marches the remaining PATIENTS offstage as RYAN continues to speak.

The public is reminded that these actions are in accordance to the ‘Complete Extermination of Tax-Dollar Liabilities’ Act – Chapters 89A-90B. You may refer to this new law at the Ministry of Finance website. Should said website content be unclear to any citizen of the Republic, you may call the MOF hotline 2271, to enquire further.

Screen goes blank. Lights out. Four partitioned cubicles, each with a chair and a laptop. MODERATOR sits in a corner at his desk. He is dressed in a dark suit and comes under a spotlight only when he speaks. He appears to be busy and is sorting out multiple things constantly. Lights up on two of the cubicles, with KRISTEN and JAEGAR at their chairs. GABBY and ERIC are unlit.

Kristen: What I feel isn’t real.

Jaeger: That’s the first step.

Kristen: Hello. It’s nice to meet you.

Jaeger: Hi. It’s nice to meet you too. This is odd, isn’t it.

Kristen: I don’t quite know what to say. (Pauses) That’s an interesting name you have.

Jaeger: Thanks. I think my dad was drunk when he named me. So we’re supposed to be helping each other, or something?

Kristen: Seems like it. Only, I’m not sure I’m exactly in a position to help anyone.

Jaeger: Yeah, me neither.

Kristen: It was so much easier in rehab. At least we were guided there. But I guess it’s not worth helping people like us anymore.

Jaeger: Oh, you know. Apparently paying for real human therapists is too expensive. I didn’t enjoy my real life sessions anyway. But this online thing beats getting sent to the Recycler.

Kristen: I had a friend who got dragged to it. She wasn’t even sedated when they threw her in there …

Jaeger: I’m sorry to hear that.

Kristen: We have to be cured. The esteemed government has done a lot for us; we can’t let them down.

Jaeger: I don’t see how forcing us to talk to strangers on these badly designed chat rooms is supposed to help.

Kristen: Shh! You shouldn’t talk this way. You know they’re all listening in on us.

Jaeger: So you’re a paranoid personality?

Kristen: Not quite. Just anorexic.

Jaeger: Ah. That explains a lot.

Kristen: How so?

Jaeger: (evasively) So … how long have you been in the system?

Kristen: Close to two years, when they found out about my eating disorder in junior college. I’ve been trying. I really have! But I can’t help it.

KRISTEN waits for a moment; there is no response. JAEGER starts back into action.

Jaeger: Whoops, sorry for the wait. I’m back. To be honest, I’m looking at the clock now. How much longer do we need to be on this thing?

Kristen: As long as it takes for us to be cured. We have to be cured.

Jaeger: I’ve been trying for five years. To be honest, I think they only keep me around because youth is too precious to waste.

Kristen: You don’t mean that. They must think you can be cured. What are you here for, anyway?

Jaeger: Eating disorder, like you. You wouldn’t believe the whacked-out Freudian theories they come up with to explain it. Wasn’t hugged enough as a child, wasn’t fed enough, has deep-seated desire to have sexual relations with a parent. Hey, how old are you?

Kristen: Neither too young nor old.

Jaeger: Haha. Nicely done. How’d you know I was a guy?

Kristen: I didn’t.

Jaeger: Ah. Awkward.

Kristen: That hardly matters, anyway. We’re here solely to be cured.

Jaeger: I guess you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t share your perspective. Especially if talking to a fully qualified psychotherapist-analyst-psychiatrist for years hasn’t changed the slightest thing about me. No offense, though. I’m sure you’re a very good listener.

Kristen: Thank you. It is most kind of you to say so. Tell me more about yourself, Jaeger. Why do you binge and purge?

JAEGER is silent for a while.

Moderator: #ED271, you are warned to share your issues with #ED2408.

Jaeger: Fine. You tell me why you starve yourself, and I’ll tell you why I want to vomit.

Kristen: You are not cooperating, Jaeger. We have to be cured.

2.

Lights up on ERIC and GABBY’s cubicles. ERIC is sitting stiffly before his computer, fidgeting as he waits. GABBY abruptly bursts onstage. Breathless, she throws herself down on her chair, which swivels around until she manages to still it.

Gabby: (deeply flustered, typing furiously) OH, DEAR ESTEEMED GOVERNMENT! I am sorry I am late for my session! My name is Gabriella May Tan, #TS0910. I am reporting for my session at the program and I apologize formally for keeping the moderator waiting.

Moderator: Patient #TS0910, you are forgetting decorum.

Gabby: What I feel isn’t real.

Eric: That’s the first step.

Gabby: Okay … So look, I don’t really have a problem. I don’t really need to be here. So … let’s just talk about whatever you have.

Eric: I can’t. I can’t go first.

Gabby: Why not.

Eric: Well … I’m not really used to this. I’m actually perspiring. Under my armpits. As I type this to you.

Gabby: Ridiculous. This is not even real life social contact.

Moderator: #TS0910 you are out of line. Do not abuse the system. The system knows that you are a Stage Intermediate case. You would have been sent to the Recycler if not for your recognized contribution to society.

Gabby: Send me away then.

Moderator: #TS0910 this is your first warning.

Gabby: I am not afraid!

Moderator: #TS0910 this is your second warning. You are reminded that your registered status as a Widow means that your four children will be sent to the Recycler with you should you not comply with the program. You have been warned.

Gabby: (taking a deep breath, clenching her fists) So! Social anxiety, huh? Do you have any friends? Why are you a Stage Intermediate, like me?

Eric: (tenses, folds arms) I have some friends.

Gabby: Not to be mean, but that’s a little of a surprise.

Eric: I do have friends.

Gabby: You do know that those monsters you run around with in video games aren’t real right?
Eric: (silence)

Gabby: Eh? You there? There? You can’t leave before the hour’s up, it won’t count as a full session then and then how will we get cured, huh?

Pause.

Eric: Do you live with your children?

Gabby: … No. You know I can’t! Why must you ask me if you know I can’t stay with them …

Eric: Some people can. Especially if they are certified to be Loving Parents … Even with … mental issues, some people can stay with their children. Do they stay with your husband then?

Gabby: He’s dead. Are you not paying attention? I am a WIDOW.

Eric: Oh. Then …

Gabby: My … My parents. And I … I’m not a certified Loving Parent. Because I have this …

Eric: What is it you have?

Gabby: I … I like it when people touch me.

Eric: I cannot relate.

Gabby: I know what you mean.

Eric: Huh?

Gabby: I also … I also don’t like to touch my, my parents. Or my siblings.

Eric: Ah. I see.

Gabby: They call this Terroramantifronication. And I have been in therapy since I had my children 5 years ago.

Eric: I am sorry to hear that.

Gabby: Stop being sorry. Help me finish this. Help me be certified sane so that I can see my babies again.

Eric: I cannot promise you anything.

Gabby: You have to hurry, we’re running out of time.

Eric: I can’t work under pressure. My armpits are perspiring again.

Gabby: (Flinging hands up) OH, DEAR ESTEEMED GOVERNMENT.

Moderator: Half session mark. Break for 7 minutes only. Do not be late in your return.

Lights out.

3.

Lights up on KRISTEN and JAEGAR’s cubicles.

Jaeger: What I feel isn’t real.

Kristen: That’s the first step.

Moderator: Subjects may commence on proper, in-depth discussion of ED. #ED271, you are to share with #ED2408 more details of your condition. Disciplinary action will be taken otherwise.

Jaeger: … That bot is a right pain in the neck sometimes.

Kristen: It only wants what’s best for us. Now, let’s talk about our problems. I’m Kristen Kirk, and I’m an anorexic. How do you do.

Jaeger: Hi. I’m Jaeger Lee. I’m a bulimic. Now it sounds like we’re both sad members of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Kristen: You’re bulimic?

Jaeger: Well you don’t have to sound so surprised.

Kristen: I’m sorry. It’s just … rare for a guy to have an eating disorder. Why do you do it?

Jaeger: I don’t think it’s that rare. Just rare for one to be talking about it, I guess. With a girl. You can skip the whole concern thing, I’m quite resigned to whatever it is I have.

Kristen: But we’re supposed to give support to each other. Besides, I understand how you feel. You don’t want to talk about it. It’s awful, but we have to start somewhere. We have to be cured. I, for one, can’t look at food without feeling the urge to vomit.

Jaeger: No, you don’t. I don’t think you could possibly understand how it feels for a guy to have bulima. It’s as though I lost my dick and my sanity in one fell swoop.

Kristen: My counselor explained briefly before what bulimia is like. She said you just keep stuffing your face with food, and then you feel so bad about it you stick your finger down your throat. Wouldn’t it be easier to just not eat, though?

Jaeger: I don’t see what’s wrong with liking to eat. I like food. Food is awesome. And then getting rid of it later as though it never even existed is having the best of both worlds.

Kristen: I can barely recall the taste of pizza. Or a muffin. Or a fry.

Jaeger: Delicious, delicious, and mind-blowingly delicious.

Kristen: Stop. Just stop!

Jaeger: Look, just because you don’t have the guts to purge…

Kristen: It’s not about purging. God, I wouldn’t want to stick my finger down my throat anyway. Besides, it doesn’t work that way. Carbs go right into your system at the mouth. And we should be helping each other. You’re supposed to tell me anorexia’s no good for me. I already told you, bulimia doesn’t work.

Jaeger: Tell that to my six-pack. Still, think about it. An all-you-can-eat buffet. International cuisine as far as the eye can see. Smoked turkey with a light honey glazing, thin crust Italian pizza dripping with stringy mozzarella cheese and topped with juicy, succulent meatballs, the smell of freshly baked flaky croissants warm from the oven, chewy chocolate chip cookies with hot fudge, cheese fries with beef relish, hot dogs drizzled with mustard –

(Side re-enactment: JAEGER force feeds KRISTEN various foods.)

Kristen: Stop it. Stop it now! (Hallucinates a feast spread out before her – all of her favorite “sinful” foods) No, no, no! This is not real. (The food starts inching towards her. In the chocolate cake, she sees the grotesque grinning face of her old ballet teacher.) Leave me alone! (Starts to cry) Please…. (She feels the stab of the needle on the weighing scale) I’m fat. I’m a horrible, sour-faced lard-ass no one will ever love. Just leave me alone!

Jaeger: Jeez. Calm down, Kristen.

KRISTEN is lost in her own world, crying and batting her arms around to ward off the encroaching food.

Jaeger: Face it. You want some of it. No, all of it. Give in to the Program, Kristen. (To Moderator) Happy, my dear esteemed Moderator? I’m helping someone, the way you want me to.

Moderator: #ED271, you do not address me unless you are addressed by me first. However, you may maintain this mode of therapy for #ED2408.

Jaeger: Look, Kristen. What you feel isn’t real. Your irrational fear of food isn’t normal.
Kristen: Like you are normal. You’re a guy who sticks his finger down his throat after eating.
Jaeger: But you want to be free. Don’t you?

Kristen: I’m afraid. Every time I look in the mirror, I see rolls and rolls of fat. I feel like no one can ever love someone like me.

Jaeger: That’s just it. There’s no possible way anyone could ever love us.

Moderator: Half session mark. Break for seven minutes only. Do not be late in your return.

Lights out.

4.

Lights up on ERIC and GABBY’s cubicles. ERIC is already in his seat. Gabby’s seat is vacant.

Moderator: One minute left.

GABBY walks in, apparently attempting to carry herself deferentially. She deliberately nods in the direction of the Moderator before sitting at her place.

Gabby: Oh, dear Esteemed Government, I am not late in my return. Please recognize my efforts to change my wayward ways.

Eric: They don’t care about good things.

Gabby: It doesn’t matter. I want them to know I care. That I care about changing. That I care about this program. That I want to get better.

Eric: They do not care that you care.

GABBY suddenly rises from her seat.

Gabby: I care. About my babies.

ERIC looks towards her cubicle, although he cannot actually see her through the partition.

Eric: I care about mine too.

GABBY slowly sits back down.

Gabby: Oh dear Esteemed Government, where are they, Eric?

Eric: That’s the first time you mentioned my name.

Gabby: Never mind that. Where are they?

Eric: (sitting even more stiffly) Recycler.

Gabby: I am so, so sorry Eric.

Eric: There is nothing to be sorry about. That is what you said.

GABBY draws her hand towards the screen as though trying to offer some comfort, then withdraws it. Long pause.

Moderator: You are reminded to continue with the program.

Gabby: Is this how you became the way you are?

Eric: No. I was originally like this. But when I had them, when I was with them, I was all right.

ERIC walks out to Stage Centre with a bucket of sand and beach toys. He is seen as being accompanied by children and family.

Was certified Loving Parent. Certified cured. (Freezes, realizes that his wife and children are not actually there.) But my children have Down Syndrome –

Gabby: Oh, Esteemed –

ERIC scoops up a handful of sand from the bucket and watches it spill out of his hand. The tighter he holds it, the faster the sand trickles out.

Eric: To me they were beautiful, perfect twins. But then the new law was passed and they were going to be sent to the Recycler, and when I found out I simply lost it. Epileptic fits and all that. My wife sank into severe depression. Couldn’t walk or go to work. I thought they should just send me to the Recycler with them. I tried to fail the Curable Test. But somehow, I passed. And so here I am.

Gabby: And your wife?

Eric: She failed the Curable Test on purpose, successfully. I don’t know why she could do it and I couldn’t. So… she’s gone now too, with the twins … and I’m here all alone ….

Moderator: TS#868, please note that this is off topic.

Gabby: What? How is this off topic?! You are FREAKING CRA-

Eric: We apologize, Moderator. We will continue.

Gabby: (Heaving a big sigh) Thank you. That was a good save.

Eric: (Shaking his head) You have your babies to return to. Can’t piss anyone off here. (Deep breath) I’m looking at the proposed questions sheet they gave us. Let me ask you this, under the “Facing your fears” section. “Tell me in detail about how your fear makes you feel.”

Gabby: That is the million-dollar question.

Eric: Try.

Gabby: (Swiveling on her chair to stall time before speaking) I like it when people I don’t know well, touch me. Because it sends shivers down my spine. All my senses are stimulated.

As she speaks, she rises from her seat and walks up to stage centre. Masked figures come up to her and she hugs and high-fives them enthusiastically. As they exit, she watches after them.
I feel loved. I feel safe. I feel like everything is okay, for that one fleeting moment. And then, after I receive this from one person, I can go onto the next. It’s like free happiness. I love it. It’s liberating. (Confidentially) But It got really bad because then, I’d be promiscuous too, because in coitus, everything is just heightened by a thousand fold … I had about 50 partners one month, and that was when someone reported me to the Esteemed Government … Said I was a threat to the spread of HIV and SYPHILIS. But I never got any of those … It was all worth the risk … that closeness with a person…. it’s priceless and I crave it relentlessly …

Eric: It’s not so much a fear then.

GABBY retreats to her seat, as though ashamed, as she speaks.

Gabby: But I am afraid. I am afraid of my parents touching me. And my siblings.

Eric: Why?

Gabby: Because!

Eric: That doesn’t answer anything.

Gabby: (Runs her hand through her hair) It is so hard to talk about.

Eric: Why?

Gabby: (Grabbing at face, hair and upper torso with increasing violence as she speaks.) When I talk about it, my skin crawls and I want to peel it right off my body. I want to gorge my eyes out and pull all my hair on my head out. I feel like rubbing my skin on the rough ground, to erase the feeling of them touching me at those specific places. (Stops movement abruptly) I want to erase it.

Eric: Were you molested, Gabby?

Gabby: Sometimes. But that is not the real reason why I hate them touching me.

Eric: How can that be so? It must be the reason.

Gabby: (Jumps to feet, shouting) NO! LISTEN TO ME. I AM NOT AFFECTED BY THAT KINDA THING.

Eric: Then why are you typing in caps?

Gabby: BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT LISTENING TO ME.

Eric: I am right here. I cannot leave. The program won’t let me.

Gabby: My nose is off centre.

Eric: That is random.

Re-enactment begins as GABBY speaks.

Gabby’s FAMILY enters. One of them is carelessly lugging along a toddler-sized, ragged doll meant to represent her. The doll has a distorted, overly large nose, making it grotesque. They sit in a semi circle facing the audience, and pass the doll around, looking it over critically.

Gabby: When they look at me, they look at me with disgust. When they picked me up as a child, they would only choose to pick me up if my siblings didn’t want to be picked up. They always had this look of pure loathing in their eyes. Like I was some alien creature, some intruder. A tarnish to their otherwise perfectly Esteemed Government Civil Servant Life in the Republic. They were so ashamed of me and they never hid it.

The FAMILY rises gradually. At this point all of them should already be standing. They leave, clustered together as if conversing and interacting naturally. The doll is forgotten and left onstage.

I hated them because they hated me, and I know they hated me because of my nose. They always talked about my nose. I understood language at an early age, way before anyone knew I could. I was barely walking, and I did not talk. But somehow, I remember I could understand everything.

Eric: Impossible.

Gabby: I swear on the name of the Esteemed Government –

Moderator: #TS0910, you DO NOT USE THE GOVERNMENT’S NAME IN VAIN.

Gabby: I apologize, Moderator.

Eric: We will continue, Moderator. Gabby?

GABBY walks out from her cubicle and sits down next to the doll. She is holding a large pair of scissors. She holds the doll tenderly and as she speaks, she slowly cuts the doll up into pieces.

Gabby: And so, because I could understand everything, by the time I decided to talk, I saw how they tried to mask what they were saying and how they felt. There was this paradigm shift in the way they communicated with on another so that they could “protect” my feelings. But it was futile. I was no idiot. It was painful to witness and unbearable for me as a child. My parents were such hypocrites, and they taught all my siblings to be the same as well. They say the youngest child always gets doted on – but that was not the case for me.

Eric: What happens when they touch you, if you let them or if they had to?

GABBY puts down her scissors and looks up.

Gabby: (Still sitting, demonstrating ramming action as she talks) Initially as a child, when I had the understanding that they were plain hypocrites, I developed a defense mechanism to hold my nose with one hand and ram myself against the wall if they came near me or motioned to carry me or touch me.

Eric: Destructive, you were.

Gabby: Exactly. My parents padded the whole house and would tie me to a chair with my hands behind me if I did that. So I learned that I couldn’t do anything physical. So I just avoided them at all costs.

As she grows increasingly agitated, she begins to rip at the doll, ripping wads of cotton out violently.

But, if they ever brushed me, or touched me, inwardly I would feel like that part of my skin was burning in such pain. I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on anything but the pain. I would roll about the floor for hours, just wailing in agony. Then my father would slap me to make me stop, once, twice, sometimes five or six times. But that would just make it so much worse and I would convulse and wither even more … It was terrible.

Eric: Funny how the one set of people who are supposed to be closest to you in the entire world can hurt you the most, huh?

GABBY leaps to her feet, clutching a remaining arm from the doll, brandishing it in the air.

Gabby: FUCK THAT SHIT. Those very people who’re supposed to love me sent me away to an Institution and they never once visited me. The one time that my Father came was to pay the bill that the GIRO system didn’t transact. Had to pay the Institution in cash. To see if I made any progress, they indicated that he had to shake my hand. (Demonstrating with the doll’s detached arm, almost hysterically) They forced me to shake his hand, Eric!

Eric: And then?

Gabby: I tried to get into the operating theatre in the basement. I wanted to saw my hand off.

She drops the hand, slightly surprised at the mess around her. Slowly, she walks back towards her cubicle.

Eric: But you had your babies by then, right … so you had to keep that hand.

Gabby: (Stopping midway and turning) You bet. But, oh it was painful. I know I will never be cured –

Eric: Moderator? MODERATOR! Isn’t it time for our break?

Moderator: You do not address me unless you are addressed by me first. Your break can commence. I did not stop you because you both were making progress. That is the aim of the program. Break for 3 minutes. We must finish this session. Do not be late in your return.

Lights out.

5.

Moderator: Moderator #3456 reporting, Sir.

Boss (Voice Over): Report on progress of Social Ability Dysfunction cases #910 and #868.

Moderator: These two cases have interacted substantially, Sir. They should be certified as CURED, in a few more sessions.

Boss: Are you sure this is an affirmative?

Moderator: Yes.

Boss: How about your other assignments?

Moderator: They have not made the same progress as the ones you have noted.

Boss: Why?

Moderator: It is my fault, Sir. I will not let this happen again, Sir.

Boss: Moderator #3456, you are reminded that the Esteemed Government is counting on you to make these useless scums useful to society again. Are you forgetting the Code of Fairness and Self-sufficiency? No Person Should Live Off Another Person. No Tax-payer Dollar Unaccounted For or Wasted. No Form of Welfare Shall Persist in the Glorious, Glorious Republic!

Moderator: I have not forgotten the Code of Fairness and Self-sufficiency, Sir! I have recited it from young and hold it dear to my heart, Sir! I apologize for giving you such an impression – it will not happen again. I will be more efficient. For the Esteemed Government, for the Republic.

Boss: It best be the case. You’re not the only one with a boss to report to. Here are your next 200 cases. I have uploaded the files on the server .These are all Stage Advanced cases. Feel free to send them to the Recycler at the slightest hint of insanity. Do you understand?

Moderator: Yes, Sir!

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