Fiction Friday – Prince

Since Blogger decided to screw up my GIFs, I think I shall make a permanent switch to WordPress.

Anyway, too many things to write this week: Fifteen Minutes, which I’m going back to tinkering with since it is now free from the competition I sent it in for; Blood Promise; and a writing blog I’m setting up with a friend.

So I’m pulling out an old piece. Sorry about this! Will definitely write a new piece when I have more time. (Crappy excuse, but there you go.)

This is a play I wrote for school (the assignment was to write a comedic piece), which is also a scene from Fifteen Minutes. So this is part of the rough material for the novel.

 

*

 

PRINCE

Tom Fletcher

 

In a garage with music equipment set up, SAWYER, JON and HESSE are seated around a makeshift plastic table, waiting for PRINCE to arrive.

Sawyer   I thought he’s living with you guys now.

Hesse   Staying.

Sawyer   Living, staying, whatever – what’s the difference?

Jon   The difference is that it’s not permanent.

Sawyer   You mean staying?

Hesse   That’s what I said.

Sawyer   So since he’s staying with you guys, where the hell is he? Still rolling his pretty ass out of bed?

Hesse   His shaver broke. He went out to the store. Said he’ll be back in ten.

Sawyer   So we’re going to sit here and wait for him to primp himself up? Damn, I should’ve brought my makeup kit along.

Hesse   You know it’s been harder for him to get around lately. What with the paparazzi and all.

Sawyer   By getting around, you mean… (Raises brows)

Hesse   (rolling his eyes) You know Prince isn’t like that. He’s ridiculously devoted. I don’t think he’s ever even gotten over Heather ditching his ass for that prick. Which is why I can’t understand those headlines. It’s not like him to do anything of that sort.

Sawyer   But it is just like him to get himself into all that mess. He’s too nice to those fans. Girls throw themselves at him and he’s all, (feigns a prissy attitude) Oh hello, thank you for your support. I know you love me. A photo? Sure, why ever not?

Garage shutters roll up. Enter PRINCE, with CHLOE in tow.

Prince   Did I just hear you guys talking about me? (Takes off mask and smirks) I might blush.

Hesse   Yeah, okay. You got your grand entrance. Now let’s jam.

Prince   I spent fifteen minutes shaking off the paps. Give me a second to take a breather, will you? I need to shave. It’s bad enough walking around with a half-shaven face. Good thing no one saw me with this thing on. (Gestures to mask)

Sawyer   We’re at band practice. Why do you need to shave before band practice? And this whole problem with the paps wouldn’t have been a problem if… (Trails off as he spots CHLOE) Well, hello, beautiful.

Jon   (staring at CHLOE) And this is…?

Prince   Oh. This is Chloe, my new assistant. She lives just next door. (looks at the brothers) Your neighbour for all these years and you don’t remember her face?

An awkward pause.

Prince   Chloe, meet Sawyer (gestures to him), Jon and Hesse. They’re my band-mates.

HESSE waves while CHLOE nods in acknowledgement. JON levels her with a stare.

Sawyer   (extends a hand but withdraws it when CHLOE does not reciprocate) Please to meet you, beautiful.

Hesse   What happened to Keith?

Prince   Oh, he was pathetic. One little media storm and he quit. Said the paparazzi are driving him nuts. Besides, he was boring. Never took any initiative, unless I prompted him –

Sawyer   You mean he’s never commended Your Royal Hotness before.

Prince   Besides (drops voice to a whisper) I think he was in love with me.

CHLOE rolls her eyes.

Prince   I can’t trust him to be objective if he’s in love with me. I need to have a purely professional relationship with my assistant.

Hesse   And so you went and got a female assistant? Of … (assesses CHLOE) our age? Are you trying to drive the paps delirious? They’ll go wild when they find out.

Prince   Don’t worry, I’ve already made sure she won’t fall for me. Chloe doesn’t get out much; she didn’t even know who I was! (Laughs) Girls like her are so rare, don’t you think? Besides, I intend to keep her a secret. No one but you guys knows about her. Plus, it’s easier having someone who doesn’t know anything about us around. Nobody will sell us out – sell me out – you see. (Grins to ensuing silence) I know, sometimes my genius scares me too.

Jon   And you think she won’t sell you out? How do you know for sure she doesn’t know who we are?

Prince   I know. It’s hard to believe she doesn’t know who Highway Heaven is. It’s like she lives under a rock. But if she is, then we’re living right next to that rock. (Looks at the brothers)

Sawyer   Staying.

Prince   But she’s the real deal.And don’t worry, I made her promise not to fall in love with me. (Winks)

Sawyer   (sidling up to CHLOE) But that doesn’t include us, right? You didn’t promise not to fall in love with the rest of us?

CHLOE shrugs off SAWYER’s arm.

Prince   I think she’s allergic to boys or something. Good-looking boys, that is. So you might have more of a chance than I do, Sawyer.

Sawyer   Screw you.

Prince   Sorry, I don’t swing that way.

Jon   What’s in it for her then, being your assistant? (Folds arms) If she’s not into you, or any of us, then why would she volunteer to be your assistant for nothing?

Chloe   First off –

Hesse   It talks!

Chloe   I didn’t volunteer to be his assistant. (Glares at PRINCE) He practically forced me into it. I barely even agreed –

Prince   Aw, don’t listen to her. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Must be the shock of meeting me in the flesh. You know how they can get.

Chloe   And, I’m not going to be his assistant for nothing. It’s because I….

Sawyer   What is it, beautiful? No need to be shy around us.

Chloe   I….

Prince   Oh, come on. There’s nothing wrong with being broke. I was poor too before I shot to mega-stardom. Her parents totally forgot about her living here on her own. She was living on cup noodles and a table lamp when I found her. I’m just giving her a job. It’s a win-win situation. (Pauses) I’ve always wanted to use that phrase.

Jon   So she’s with you for your money.

Hesse   Oh, come on, Jon. (To CHLOE) Sorry, he gets like that. You can’t find anyone more cynical than my brother.

Sawyer   So how did you find her?

Prince   (Nudges CHLOE) Tell him, honey. Tell him how Fate brought us together and how our insignificant lives – well, your insignificant life – collided with the glorious, dazzling impact of a supernova.

Hesse   Careful, Ethan. You’re flirting.

Prince   The name is Prince. And oh, don’t worry. She’s hormonally challenged. These homebodies, they stay at home all day talking to their dolls or reading their fantasy novels. They couldn’t respond to a come-on if it stuck a hotdog in their mouths.

Groans erupt all around.

Sawyer   Sorry, beautiful. He can be quite a dick sometimes. I would never contaminate my language with such vulgar imagery.

Chloe   That’s okay. The words a person says determines his intellect. There’s no point contending with a person like him.

Hesse   (laughing) Looks like you’ve hired yourself a little fireball, Prince.

Jon   Can we get down to business already? My keys are turning rusty. (Plays a quick short tune on his keyboard)

Prince   But I’m not done shaving yet! (Rubs face) I can’t jam without a smooth face.

Hesse   Yeah, yeah. You’re still pretty, okay? (To CHLOE) Make yourself comfortable, Chloe. And give us some feedback, will you? We’re working on something right now that sounds … lacking, for some reason.

PRINCE sulkily gets his guitar plugged and everyone gets ready.

Prince   (murmurs into the microphone in a sexy baritone) It’s called ‘Paper Bombs’.

They launch into a number that involves heavy drumbeats and a mash of screaming guitars. The song ends with a final riff of the guitar.

Hesse   (to CHLOE) How was it?

Chloe   (nods) Pretty good.

Prince   Pretty good? Pretty good? That’s all you can say?

Chloe   What do you want me to say?

Prince   After all we’ve put into performing it, you could at least give us a scream. Or make an impromptu banner. Or if even all that’s too taxing, you could at least clap.

Chloe   I’m not a groupie. I’m an audience.

Prince   You’re a horrible audience.

Chloe   Is that how you speak to your audience? Every audience is a potential fan.

Hesse   She sounds scarily like Ben.

Chloe   Who’s Ben?

Hesse   Our manager.

Prince   You know what? Let’s do this again. I don’t care. (To CHLOE) You, as my assistant, are going to tell me what the problem is.

They perform ‘Paper Bombs’ again.

Prince   Well?

Chloe   Maybe it’s because I’m not a fan of all this metal, but I really think there’s too much guitar screaming around. And the drumbeats. It’s distracting and makes the song sound too generic. It takes away the power of the lyrics. It might be better if it were acoustic. (Shrugs) But that’s just my opinion.

Silence fills the garage.

Sawyer   You really think so?

Hesse   (considering) Might work. It’s worth giving a shot.

Prince   Wait a minute. Just – wait a minute. (Turns to CHLOE) Acoustic? Are you kidding me? This song is all about the power. I’m trying to make a statement with the lyrics. The metal is to draw out the rawness of the heartbreak when the girl dumps the guy through a series of letters. And you’re telling me we should go acoustic?

Chloe   You wanted my opinion.

Prince   I didn’t need that.

Chloe   Oh, you mean my criticism?

Prince   No, I mean your unprofessional take on a song I put my heart and soul into. We put our heart and soul into.

Chloe   I never claimed to be a professional. I’m just an assistant.

Sawyer   I thought you said you haven’t agreed to it yet.

Prince   Who wants an assistant like her?

Hesse   (warningly) Prince. You’ve only just fired Keith. Walk it off.

Sawyer   (to CHLOE) If you decide not to work for Prince, there’s always me. I’m a whole lot nicer, I promise. Plus, I’ll pay you double.

Prince   Shut up, Sawyer. She’s my assistant. Besides, you know I need an assistant more than you do.

Sawyer   What’s that supposed to mean?

Hesse   Oh, come on, guys. Don’t do this.

Prince   We all know I’m the Paul McCartney of this band. I can’t help it if everyone pays more attention to me, Sawyer, but you seem to think I’m stealing something from you.

SAWYER punches PRINCE across the face.

Prince   (cries) Not the face! Not the face! My cheekbone! (To no one in particular) Is it dented? Am I still pretty? (Grabs CHLOE by the shoulders and shaking her) Am I?

Chloe   You need to shut up and calm the hell down.

Sawyer   (to PRINCE) You arrogant little bastard. I’ll make it bigger than you. And when that time comes, you’ll be begging me for an autograph to sell on eBay because you can’t afford the rent in that fancy-ass suite of yours.

Hesse   Sawyer, come on. You know Prince. He doesn’t mean –

Sawyer   Enough with the Prince thing already. His name is Ethan. If he can be a prince, I can be a duke or something.

JON starts playing a piece on his keyboard. The notes start out quiet, so that no one hears it at first. Gradually, it builds up into a strong melody that silences everyone. When it ends, everyone is staring at JON.

Jon   We started out as a rock band. With a dream to share our music with the world. But what we are is a pop idol group. And we agreed to see that as just a platform, a stepping stone to what we really want, to become rock stars. Why the hell are you two fighting over who has more girls screaming over him?

PRINCE and SAWYER fidget in shame.

Hesse   Yeah. Have a break, have a KitKat, or whatever. (Opens the mini fridge and pulling out a jumbo packet of chocolate) Sit. (Distributes chocolate all around) Now eat.

As everyone munches absently on chocolate, PRINCE pulls out a mini mirror from his back pocket and checks his face for damage.

Sawyer   Look, I’m sorry about … (gestures to PRINCE’s face) you know. You’re still pretty, all right?

Prince   I know. And I didn’t mean what I said. I mean, I am more popular than you, but it’s not like it matters. You know why I started out with this anyway; I didn’t mean to compete with anyone.

Sawyer   (nodding) Have you settled all the debts at home?

PRINCE shakes his head.

Hesse   But your mom said….

Prince   What my mom doesn’t know won’t kill her. I told her I’ve settled everything.

Hesse   Don’t you think she’ll find out somehow? And does she know about the tabloids?

Prince   She collects every snippet of news about me. How can she not know? She’s been choking up my voicemail ever since.

Jon   You can’t keep avoiding her. And you know, having her (gestures to CHLOE) around will only complicate things further.

Hesse   And Ben would never allow that. You’re his fattest cash cow –

Prince   I’m fat?

He pulls off t-shirt to reveal his fine physique. CHLOE blushes furiously.

Sawyer   Put that away, jeez! Are you trying to give us sore eyes?

Prince   (to HESSE) Fat? Is this fat to you? (Flexes his abs and biceps) I keep this body in tiptop condition at all times, FYI. I’m a sight for sore eyes. (To CHLOE) Aren’t I?

Chloe   (still blushing)

SAWYER, HESSE and JON roll their eyes.

Hesse   Okay, okay. I take that back, okay? Now will you stop exhibiting yourself to us?

Prince   (pulling his t-shirt back on) One thing at a time. First, no one is going to mention her to Ben. As soon as this whole thing with the paps blows over, we’ll all be too busy with the concerts for Ben to care about some assistant of mine. And as for my mom, that’s a distant problem we don’t have to worry about as long as I’m still raking in the money.

Jon   But I don’t think that’s going to be a distant problem.

Prince   You’re right. Of course it isn’t. It isn’t even a problem at all.

Jon   No, I mean it’s more immediate than you think.

Prince   … Why?

Hesse   Well. Because she called. (Waves PRINCE’s cellphone) While you were out. Says she’s coming over. She’s on the next flight in from Greece.

Deathly silence creeps in.

Prince   You couldn’t find a spare second to mention that earlier? Holy shit, Hesse! Holy freaking shit! My mom’s flying over? Dammit, Hesse! Dammit!

Hesse   Hey, don’t shoot the messenger.

CHLOE goes over to PRINCE and slaps him.

Prince   (screams) NOT THE FACE!

Chloe   You’re sort of hysterical.

Prince   Well, yeah, of course I am. My mother’s coming over!

Chloe   And that’s … bad?

Hesse   The last time his mother came over, she meddled so much Highway Heaven almost lost our contract with the record company. She means well, the sweet lady, but….

Prince   (stares at CHLOE) We need to hide her. Now. My mom can’t see her!

Chloe   What? I thought you said she’s not a problem!

Prince   That was before I knew she’s flying over. (Grabs CHLOE’s hand and drags her to ) Rope. We need rope. Tie her up so she won’t leave this garage. Rope! Get me some rope!

Chloe   You’re crazy! (Tears out of the garage)

Sawyer   Beautiful! Don’t go! Aw, man. (Turns to PRINCE) Look what you did, assbag.

Hesse   (stares after CHLOE) I think you just lost your assistant the same day you got her. What a record.

 

 

*

monday update

So I’m holed up in the school library … not studying, as I probably should be. I’m at a very secluded area of the library where people here mostly just sleep in the comfy seats provided along the wall. I’m blog-surfing, which is, you know, also considered as a form of research, since discourse is everywhere and as a linguistics major, I should be competent enough to consider the intent of discourse and the discrepancies between the idealised and actual projected image. And so on.

Except that I’m really not.

I’m trying to think of a way to come up with my usual 8 pages of dialogue for my play, due Wednesday, when we have our reading during class. That, and sourcing for new dramas to watch. Because humans are story-telling/story-loving creatures, right? We feel the need to chronicle our lives through vicariously living through the characters on-screen and on the page. Stories help us make sense of the chaotic in our stretch of time in this world, and it helps that they have a proper (hopefully happy) ending, something that’s impossible to define in real life.

So, whatever it takes to keep reality at arm’s length, because man, its bite is painful.

Just yesterday, my dad was telling me I should start considering my options. As in, career options. After graduation. I was in the midst of cranking out some dialogue for my play, when he popped in for a chat. The Classifieds section of the day’s papers was strewn on the floor (you can tell how high on my priority list that is at the moment), and he asked me what I was considering doing after graduation. He said the worst was when it’s time for me to become gainfully employed and I still don’t know what I want to (and can) do and then I embark on this mad rush to apply for jobs and settle for any old crap position, in which I’d be miserable and contemplating to find another job. That’s sound advice, I know, but it just put me in a lousy mood afterwards, so much so that I didn’t even feel like writing anymore. It felt like reality had punched me in the gut. Because, sure, I’m enjoying what I’m doing now, writing plays for class, and writing essays and catching up on readings, but what happens after? It’s all good to focus on the present, because you don’t know what’s going to happen next and all that. But what if the future is (not so) slowly but surely looming and the problem is precisely that you don’t know what’s going to happen? The uncertainty is enough to gore you to the ground, deflated and weary enough to not want to lift up your head.

Any job that requires narrative writing, I’m your girl. Anything that requires creative writing, sign me up. On the spot. Because those are the things I’d do even if I wasn’t paid to do them. But the list seems to end there. Teaching? No, thank you. White-collared jobs? I’ve expressed my disillusionment with them before. Entrepreneur? I’m too illogical, irrational and impractical for it. Not to mention naive and uninterested.

This is turning out to be another post where I lament about my lack of career options (well, okay, not quite a lack of, because really it’s just me being picky and unmotivated). So I’m going to stop here and move on to happier things.

My 21st celebration was a blast, and this is a little overdue (since my birthday’s on 25 Sept), but a big thank you to all of you who came and made that day special! I wasn’t too keen on making a big fuss over a birthday, but my dad said it was a milestone in my life and that I had to celebrate it well because you only get to be 21 once. Which sounds depressing, but I shan’t dwell on the downside. 21 feels entirely too old – 18, I feel, is the best age, even though we had to contend with the crazy A’levels.

(On a sidenote, it seems my dad is always trying to make me get a life. Apart from organising my party, he also encourages me to go out more or join more clubs and societies or pick up a sport or class to meet more people. I don’t know what to make of it. Sometimes, it’s really nice to have company – the bigger the company, the better – but sometimes, you just really want to be alone.)

Speaking of my play, I realised I haven’t quite told you much about it (although whom I’m addressing is unclear – maybe it’s better to treat my blog as a person, so I won’t feel like I’m talking to some imaginary audience). It’s about this girl Becky who is so obsessed with a pop star that she spends her days camping out on his fansites and Twitter profile. She hears a host of three people in her head: Prince II, an impression of the pop star who is supposed to love Becky unconditionally; Aunty Kim, her neighbour who passed away two years ago and had been a mother figure in her life ever since her mother left her; and Mr Hawk, her creative writing teacher who saw the potential in her writing. When her mother reappears in her life, the voices in Becky’s head grow increasingly louder, so much so that they start crowding up her mind and interfering with her daily life. She talks to them in public, often in agitation, and her atypical behaviour is noticed by her childhood friend and neighbour (also Aunty Kim’s son), Lucas, who has always been protective of her and now tries to help her exorcise the voices in her head one by one. To do so, they have to revisit the day Aunty Kim died, and understand Becky’s infatuation with Prince.

Some parts sound a bit autobiographical, if you know me, but sadly there is no Lucas in my life. (I can hear Gerlynn sniggering right now.) Still, fiction’s the best form of escape.

Till the next post!

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!

Play – Art Therapy

[Leigh: girl suffering from schizophrenia
Jared: partially amnesiac boy who hates musicals
Flynn: effeminate boy who likes to think he is the star of every play he creates in his head]
A stale room reeking of air freshener. A ring of chairs in the middle of the room. LEIGH, JARED and FLYNN are the only ones who have arrived.
Jared Just so we’re clear, I’m not here because I’m crazy, okay?
Flynn Oh, but we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad. You wouldn’t have come here if you weren’t.
Leigh Alice in Wonderland.
Flynn (beams) Spot on, girl.
Jared (mutters) Great. Therapy session with Disney fanatics. This must be a first.
Flynn First off, Alice in Wonderland is not a Disney original. Disney adapted the story from Lewis Carroll. You get me, sugar? Secondly, (leans closer) what’s a treat like you doing in therapy, anyway?
Jared (backing away) I’m here under court orders. Not that this is any of your business. Now, let me introduce you to my friend, Personal Space. You can’t see her, but she’s right here (pushes FLYNN away from him).
Flynn Oh, don’t be shy. We’re all in the same boat here.
Jared (with reluctant interest) You’re here under court orders too?
Flynn Well, no. But I’m here for (drops voice to a whisper) research.
Jared (frowning) Research?
Flynn For my next character, see? I’m playing a hapless young pianist who loses his memory after a car accident, the poor soul, and is trying to sift through the discordant symphony in his mind to retrieve his identity. Although, if you ask me, I’d say he’s being a little melodramatic. Losing your memory isn’t that horrible. It’s like how an actor becomes a blank slate every time he is cast in a new role.
Jared (snaps) You think losing your memory isn’t that horrible?
Flynn Well, who needs them? We should all cleanse ourselves of unpleasant memories once in a while.
Jared What about the happy ones, if any?
Flynn Then you make more of them.
Jared But what is the point if you’re going to lose them later?
Flynn Exactly why you keep making new ones! You see my point now, sugar? Took you a little long, but that’s okay. You look so cute when you’re confused. (Giggles)
JARED decides he has had enough of FLYNN and turns to LEIGH, who is staring out the window behind her. Sunlight makes her auburn hair glow a vibrant red.
Jared What are you here for, then?
Leigh (not turning around) Look how the sunlight illuminates each speck of dust. Look how each speck dances. They all look the same to us, don’t they?
Jared Um. I guess…?
Leigh Sameness is the same to those who are different, but only the same difference will be different to those who are the same.
Jared (mutters) Nutjobs. I’m stuck here with a bunch of nutjobs. Delightful.
Flynn (tugs on JARED’s t-shirt) She’s boring, leave her be. I, though, I could make a song about you. What’s your name?
Jared Names give other people power over you.
Flynn (tearing up) That’s lovely. Who told you that? Well, I’ll call you the Trojan Warrior, then.
Jared What? No!
Flynn What’s wrong with that? Listen to this, it’s impromptu. I’m rather good at making up songs impromptu. Oh, look how the mighty Trojan Warrior walks / With his tail up high and brandishing his sword. / With his pretty hair and his brawny chest / Oh, have you ever witnessed such a lovely fest!
Jared Will you stop singing!
Flynn Sure. Whatever you say, Trojan Warrior.
Jared (agitated) I am not Trojan Warrior! Stop calling me that. The name’s Jared, okay?
Flynn (grins) Jared it is, then. We could’ve spared ourselves all that if you’d just given me your name.
He prepares to launch into a new song about JARED when the therapist walks in. JARED looks relieved, FLYNN annoyed, while LEIGH continues staring out the window.
Dr York Ah. I see we’re all starting to get acquainted. Don’t let me interrupt –
Jared Please do.
Flynn Oh, he’s shy. (Reaches over for his hair) The sweet thing.
JARED flinches and backs away.
Dr York (gaze flicks between JARED and FLYNN) Right, well then. I’m glad you came, Jared. I was a little worried you wouldn’t, given your condition. And as for you, Flynn, I see you’ve extended your … affectionate welcome to your peer. And … (trails off as he looks at LEIGH) Leigh? Are you here with us? (He gets no response.)
Jared (through clenched teeth) Let’s just get this over with.
Dr York (consults his list) Certainly. We just have to wait for one more friend to arrive before we proceed.
Jared You mean there’s one more crazy person joining this suck-fest? Is the world over-run with nutjobs these days?
Drew Melodrama becomes you, Jared.
DREW enters the room and takes a seat next to DR YORK.
Jared (in surprise) What are you doing here?
Drew I’m here as his assistant. An intern.
Jared The irony is dancing right in front of you. (Gestures to somewhere on DREW’s right) Right there. See it?
Drew I forgot how precious your humour can be.
Dr York Now, boys. Drew’s stint here is history, but a person’s history can influence his future. I’d say Drew’s doing well now, wouldn’t you, Jared?
Jared (rolls eyes) Spare me the chipper attitude. We’ve got Happy here for that already. (Gestures to FLYNN)
Flynn I’m acknowledged! (Claps hands) It’s nice to hear you referring to me in such a positive light, Warrior.
JARED shoots him a venomous look.
Flynn My, look who’s a few fries short of a Happy Meal.
Dr York Right. Let’s get started. Why don’t we share something about ourselves and talk about how we’re feeling today? Leigh, ladies first.
Leigh (turns around and stares at the floor)
Dr York Maybe we’re all feeling a little shy now. Don’t worry, take your time. Here, we don’t judge, we only listen and share.
LEIGH is still hesitant.
Flynn Oh, come on, sister. (Wraps an arm around LEIGH) We’re all family here. No secrets, no betrayal, only love, no fear! I’m Flynn. In my free time, I like horse-riding, reading plays, singing and rehearsing for my performances. Also, I adore the colour of your hair, and I think it’s time for me to get a haircut. I’m growing tired of this shaggy look. So 2010, don’t you think?
Dr York Excellent! Now, Flynn has offered us a good start. Now, why don’t you give it a try, Jared?
Jared (glaring at DR YORK) Why don’t I just walk out right now, Dr York? You told me this is a legitimate form of therapy. How is sitting around in a circle talking about sharing and big love a legitimate form of therapy? I didn’t sign up for this.
Flynn You’re grumpy. Here, let me give you a song: Once there was a man called Grumpy / Who didn’t like his therapist. / He stomped around with his brows knitted close / And let everyone eat his fist.
Drew (smirks) What do you know, the guy’s a poet!
Flynn (bows) Thank you. One must learn to be spontaneous if he wants to make it big on stage. Come on, everyone! Try it with me. You can be male-lead quality like me if you practice hard enough!
Leigh There once lived a lovely princess / In the darkest wood up on the hill. / She danced to the full moon and the beastly sea, / And grew roses on her windowsill. / But she battered the air with her lovelorn sighs / And stained the warm earth with her blood. / She wanted to be free of the pretty monsters / that, in her dreams, come out to play. / Her castle was a steely prison with bones for bars; / She could not tear away. / So under the swollen moon on her eighteenth birthday / She lay quietly in wait. / And beneath the eye of the star-strewn heavens / She threw herself off the cliff, towards the sea’s embrace.
A beat of silence. DR YORK scribbles something in his notebook.
Jared Wow. That is one messed up chick.
DR YORK sends him a look.
Jared I mean, a mentally distressed girl. Whatever.
Dr York Thank you, Leigh. Did you compose that yourself?
Leigh My mother used to sing that to me and my sister when we were young.
Jared No wonder you ended up here.
Dr York (sternly) Jared, your turn now.
Jared Look, I’m not going to break out in song, so don’t hold your breath. (To LEIGH and FLYNN) Basically, I’m here because Dr York thinks I’m doing well enough to attend group therapy sessions as opposed to one-to-ones. But well enough compared to what, I’m not too sure, seeing as how I remember shit about what happened before….
DR YORK and DREW share a dark look.
Flynn So you’re an amnesiac? How come you remember how to talk, then? Or form a sentence?
Jared I’m a partial amnesiac, not a moron.
Flynn Well, you don’t even know why you’re here. At least I have a purpose here. A good actor does his homework. This therapy session is for me to get an insight on how crazy people behave.
Jared (bristling) You just said we’d all have to be mad to be here! That includes you.
Dr York (loudly over the squabble) I have a stack of cards here (waves cards) and I want all of you to throw out the first thing that comes to mind when you see it –
Jared The Rorschach test? Please. Haven’t you already worked that crap on me?
Drew Obsolete methods, Yorkie. As an intern and an ex-patient of yours, I’d expect more from you.
Dr York I’m not finished yet. Your medium of response has to be the one with which you best express yourself. Jared, you’re an artist, so I’d like to see you draw. Flynn, you –
Flynn I can sing. (Breaks into a rendition of Mariah Carey’s Without You) I can’t liiiive / If living is without youuuu –
Jared (covers ears) Holy crap, make him stop!
Dr York (sighs) As long as it’s an original work, Flynn. And Leigh, you can write. There is no time limit for this, so take as long as you wish, as long as I get to enjoy your masterpiece at the end of this session. Now, with each card I flash at random intervals, you can choose to string your work into story or compound it to your first creation.
After passing out pencil and paper to LEIGH and JARED, DR YORK flashes the first card of a monarch butterfly.
Flynn (starts to sing Miley Cyrus’s Butterfly Fly Away) Butterflyyy, butterflyyy, butterfly fly away…
Jared (snaps) He said original work, idiot. (To Dr York) And I can’t focus with him wailing in my ear.
Flynn You don’t play very nice with others, do you?
Jared I don’t play with others, period.
Flynn (pulls a sympathetic face) Did losing your memory make you this way, my pet? (Sings to the tune of Van Morrison’s Brown-Eyed Girl) Do you see him go / He treads down the hallway / He walks real slow / Trying to find his way / Try to find his way home hey, hey / Like a lost alley cat / Without milk or cuddles he / cries for some love he is / My amnesiac boy / You my amnesiac boy.
Drew (looks impressed) He’s good. Did you come up with that spontaneously?
Flynn (beaming) Now there’s someone who can appreciate talent when he sees it. What’s your name again? Dylan?
Drew Um…
Dr York Maybe you’d like to pen down the song before you, um, display your vocals to us, Flynn. Now, for the second card.
He flashes a second card of a flame in the dark. LEIGH drops her pencil when she sees that. Everyone stares at her as she begins to tremble visibly.
Flynn (channels Blue Oyster Cult, oblivious to LEIGH) Fire of unknown origin / Took my baby away –
Dr York Leigh? Are you okay?
Flynn I think she’s going into anaphylactic shock.
Jared Do you even know what anaphylactic shock is?
Flynn Do you?
Dr York Children. Please. Leigh? Is there anything you wish to share?
Leigh (in agitation) You know something, don’t you? You know something. And you’re not telling me.
Jared I think you may need to sedate her, Dr York.
Flynn Ah, just another day in the nuthouse. (Leans back to watch the show)
Jared Are you being a dick to compensate for your lack of it?
Dr York Leigh, if this is too stressful for you, we’ll move on to the third card. If you find it difficult to voice your distress, you can express that in your writing. The idea is to keep your fingers moving in time with your thoughts. Let your words mirror everything that is running through your mind.
Flynn (starts to sing – again) Something’s getting in the way, / Something’s just about to break. / I will try to find my place / In the di-a-ry of Jane.
Jared (glares at him) Inappropriate and inaccurate. Her name isn’t even Jane.
Dr York (sharply) The second card, everyone.
He hands FLYNN a pencil and paper, and they get back to work. FLYNN hums under his breath while JARED works with a finger in his ear. DREW and DR YORK share a private conversation.
Drew I still can’t believe he clean forgot all that’s happened.
Dr York I told you before, it’s his brain’s instinctual reaction to the trauma. It’s not uncommon. But he’s showing good progress. Amnesia aside, I’d say he’s actually behaving like a normal teenage boy.
Drew And when – if – he remembers?
Dr York Then we shall deal with that accordingly. (Addresses the group) Ready for the last card? (Flashes the last card, one of a blood-stained carpet, and watches each of them closely for their immediate reaction)
JARED stiffens noticeably.
Dr York Problem, Jared?
Jared (collects himself) Shock tactic, Dr York? I appreciate the effort, but (shakes his head) nothing, nada.
Dr York But why do you think you might have a reaction to this particular picture?
Jared You’re the therapist. Give me some answers. (Turns to DREW) And I bet you know something too. I’ve known for a long time you two are keeping something from me.
Flynn Are you going to turn psychotic like her too (jabs finger in LEIGH’s direction. LEIGH does not notice)? I didn’t know you had a knack for drama.
Jared Shut up, choir boy. (Turns back to DR YORK and DREW) Look, I’m tired of guessing and second-guessing about my past.
Dr York If you can’t remember, it means your mind isn’t ready quite ready for you to handle the memory yet. I’ve said before that you have to come to terms with it on your own, at your own time; I can only prod you along.
Flynn (sniggering) Prod.
Jared So my past involves a blood-stained carpet? That sure is a whole lot to go on.
Dr York It will come to you. When you are ready. Be patient.
Flynn Does anyone want to hear my songs, or not? I have to go for a casting in (checks watch) fifteen minutes.
Jared (takes a peek) Your watch doesn’t even work!
Flynn Doesn’t it? I must have forgotten the jam.
Leigh Alice in Wonderland.
Flynn Right again, sister. (Winks)
Jared (to DR YORK) Seriously? You think I belong here with these people?
Dr York Be patient. You just need some time to get used to all this. (Smiles.)
Blackout
.

So the above is the play that I received less-than-warm reviews for three weeks ago in playwriting class. You see, we were supposed to write a musical comedy. My first thought was, Right, well I’m screwed, seeing as how I’m completely not a musical person, much less a musical comedy. I don’t know. There’s just something that creeps me out about musicals/musical comedies, maybe because they just seem so detached from reality, like everyone in there lives in a parallel universe where people spontaneously burst into song and dance and are inherently chirpy all the time and have to translate their words into song. I don’t watch Glee (I’m relieved to say I am an un-Gleek), and I gave Hairspray a miss. Save for The Sound of Music, Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady (because they’re beautiful classics and everyone should watch them) and The Phantom of the Opera (because it’s dark and romantic) and half of High School Musical (I decided to spare myself the rest of the torture), my encounter with musicals ends there. Suffice to say this isn’t a genre over which I wet my pants with excitement.

It turns out that this play completely missed the essence of a musical. It hardly feels like one at all. Huzir said that the characters were just singing for the sake of it (no, he didn’t put it that bluntly – that’s just my interpretation), and the only song that seemed to contribute anything to the musical aspect of the play was Leigh’s song (yes, it is an original piece, in case you were wondering). Were it not in that week’s requirement to come up with a musical, this play might have worked. But factor in the requirements, I totally missed it.

And you know, after listening to what the others have come up with – some even brought their guitars and sang self-composed songs (thanks, Nick! lovely compositions, but talk about spoiling the market) – I understood that, unlike mine, theirs did convey the mood of musical comedies.

Oh well. I was beating myself up after that not because I failed to write a proper musical comedy, but because I was trying so hard to explain my play and failing to let the others feel about my play the way I do. Retrospectively, I can’t help but cringe at my desperation. THAT was what was chewing at me for the rest of the day afterwards.

But, you know, as many writers say, real writers face their failures and work through them. Since writing’s an act of constant experimentation, failures only attest to your persistence. If you’ve never written badly before, you’ve never really written anything because you’re too safe. Besides, if you don’t fail, this writing thing would be too easy, and then where’s the fun in that?

So I shelved this episode in the back of my mind, took away what I could from it, and worked on the next assignment: a group play. Till next post!

Play – Prince

[Ethan “Prince” Wane: narcissistic guitarist/lead (tenor) singer of a pop idol group, wants to break away from being a teenybopper and become a real rock star
Chloe: agoraphobic antisocial girl with absent parents
Sawyer: guitarist/baritone singer of band; sees Prince as his closest rival
Jon: keyboardist, quietest of the group, but very observant; often makes critical but shrewd remarks
Hesse: bassist, Jon’s older brother, loud and loves a party atmosphere, often the one who resolves any conflict between Prince and Sawyer]


A garage with music equipment set up. SAWYER, JON and HESSE seated around a makeshift plastic table, waiting for PRINCE to arrive.
Sawyer I thought he’s living with you guys now.
Hesse Staying.
Sawyer Living, staying, whatever – what’s the difference?
Jon The difference is that it’s not permanent.
Sawyer You mean staying?
Hesse That’s what I said.
Sawyer So since he’s staying with you guys, where the hell is he? Still rolling his pretty ass out of bed?
Hesse His shaver broke. He went out to the store. Said he’ll be back in ten.
Sawyer So we’re going to sit here and wait for him to primp himself up? Damn, I should’ve brought my makeup kit along.
Hesse You know it’s been harder for him to get around lately. What with the paparazzi and all.
Sawyer By getting around, you mean… (Raises brows)
Hesse (rolling his eyes) You know Prince isn’t like that. He’s ridiculously devoted. I don’t think he’s ever even gotten over Heather ditching his ass for that prick. Which is why I can’t understand those headlines. It’s not like him to do anything of that sort.
Sawyer But it is just like him to get himself into all that mess. He’s too nice to those fans. Girls throw themselves at him and he’s all, (feigns a prissy attitude) Oh hello, thank you for your support. I know you love me. A photo? Sure, why ever not?
Garage shutters roll up. Enter PRINCE, with CHLOE in tow.
Prince Did I just hear you guys talking about me? (Takes off mask and smirks) I might blush.
Hesse Yeah, okay. You got your grand entrance. Now let’s jam.
Prince I spent fifteen minutes shaking off the paps. Give me a second to take a breather, will you? I need to shave. It’s bad enough walking around with a half-shaven face. Good thing no one saw me with this thing on. (Gestures to mask)
Sawyer We’re at band practice. Why do you need to shave before band practice? And this whole problem with the paps wouldn’t have been a problem if… (Trails off as he spots CHLOE) Well, hello, beautiful.
Jon (staring at CHLOE) And this is…?
Prince Oh. This is Chloe, my new assistant. She lives just next door. (Looks at the brothers) Your neighbour for all these years and you don’t remember her face?
An awkward pause.
Prince Chloe, meet Sawyer (gestures to him), Jon and Hesse. They’re my band-mates.
HESSE waves while CHLOE nods in acknowledgement. JON levels her with a stare.
Sawyer (extends a hand but withdraws it when CHLOE does not reciprocate) Please to meet you, beautiful.
Hesse What happened to Keith?
Prince Oh, he was pathetic. One little media storm and he quit. Said the paparazzi are driving him nuts. Besides, he was boring. Never took any initiative, unless I prompted him –
Sawyer You mean he’s never commended Your Royal Hotness before.
Prince Besides (drops voice to a whisper) I think he was in love with me.
CHLOE rolls her eyes.
Prince I can’t trust him to be objective if he’s in love with me. I need to have a purely professional relationship with my assistant.
Hesse And so you went and got a female assistant? Of … (assesses CHLOE) our age? Are you trying to drive the paps delirious? They’ll go wild when they find out.
Prince Don’t worry, I’ve already made sure she won’t fall for me. Chloe doesn’t get out much; she didn’t even know who I was! (Laughs) Girls like her are so rare, don’t you think? Besides, I intend to keep her a secret. No one but you guys knows about her. Plus, it’s easier having someone who doesn’t know anything about us around. Nobody will sell us out – sell me out – you see. (Grins to ensuing silence) I know, sometimes my genius scares me too.
Jon And you think she won’t sell you out? How do you know for sure she doesn’t know who we are?
Prince I know. It’s hard to believe she doesn’t know who Highway Heaven is. It’s like she lives under a rock. But if she is, then we’re living right next to that rock. (Looks at the brothers)
Sawyer Staying.
Prince But she’s the real deal. And don’t worry, I made her promise not to fall in love with me. (Winks)
Sawyer (sidling up to CHLOE) But that doesn’t include us, right? You didn’t promise not to fall in love with the rest of us?
CHLOE shrugs off SAWYER’s arm.
Prince I think she’s allergic to boys or something. Good-looking boys, that is. So you might have more of a chance than I do, Sawyer.
Sawyer Screw you.
Prince Sorry, I don’t swing that way.
Jon What’s in it for her then, being your assistant? (Folds arms) If she’s not into you, or any of us, then why would she volunteer to be your assistant for nothing?
Chloe First off –
Hesse It talks!
Chloe I didn’t volunteer to be his assistant. (Glares at PRINCE) He practically forced me into it. I barely even agreed –
Prince Aw, don’t listen to her. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Must be the shock of meeting me in the flesh. You know how they can get.
Chloe And, I’m not going to be his assistant for nothing. It’s because I….
Sawyer What is it, beautiful? No need to be shy around us.
Chloe I….
Prince Oh, come on. There’s nothing wrong with being broke. I was poor too before I shot to mega-stardom. Her parents totally forgot about her living here on her own. She was living on cup noodles and a table lamp when I found her. I’m just giving her a job. It’s a win-win situation. (Pauses) I’ve always wanted to use that phrase.
Jon So she’s with you for your money.
Hesse Oh, come on, Jon. (To CHLOE) Sorry, he gets like that. You can’t find anyone more cynical than my brother.
Sawyer So how did you find her?
Prince (Nudges CHLOE) Tell him, honey. Tell him how Fate brought us together and how our insignificant lives – well, your insignificant life – collided with the glorious, dazzling impact of a supernova.
Hesse Careful, Ethan. You’re flirting.
Prince The name is Prince. And oh, don’t worry. She’s hormonally challenged. These homebodies, they stay at home all day talking to their dolls or reading their fantasy novels. They couldn’t respond to a come-on if it stuck a hotdog in their mouths.
Groans erupt all around.
Sawyer Sorry, beautiful. He can be quite a dick sometimes. I would never contaminate my language with such vulgar imagery.
Chloe That’s okay. The words a person says determines his intellect. There’s no point contending with a person like him.
Hesse (laughing) Looks like you’ve hired yourself a little fireball, Prince.
Jon Can we get down to business already? My keys are turning rusty. (Plays a quick short tune on his keyboard)
Prince But I’m not done shaving yet! (Rubs face) I can’t jam without a smooth face.
Hesse Yeah, yeah. You’re still pretty, okay? (To CHLOE) Make yourself comfortable, Chloe. And give us some feedback, will you? We’re working on something right now that sounds … lacking, for some reason.
PRINCE sulkily gets his guitar plugged and everyone gets ready.
Prince (murmurs into the microphone in a sexy baritone) It’s called ‘Paper Bombs’.
They launch into a number that involves heavy drumbeats and a mash of screaming guitars. The song ends with a final riff of the guitar.
Hesse (to CHLOE) How was it?
Chloe (nods) Pretty good.
Prince Pretty good? Pretty good? That’s all you can say?
Chloe What do you want me to say?
Prince After all we’ve put into performing it, you could at least give us a scream. Or make an impromptu banner. Or if even all that’s too taxing, you could at least clap.
Chloe I’m not a groupie. I’m an audience.
Prince You’re a horrible audience.
Chloe Is that how you speak to your audience? Every audience is a potential fan.
Hesse She sounds scarily like Ben.
Chloe Who’s Ben?
Hesse Our manager.
Prince You know what? Let’s do this again. I don’t care. (To CHLOE) You, as my assistant, are going to tell me what the problem is.
They perform ‘Paper Bombs’ again.
Prince Well?
Chloe Maybe it’s because I’m not a fan of all this metal, but I really think there’s too much guitar screaming around. And the drumbeats. It’s distracting and makes the song sound too generic. It takes away the power of the lyrics. It might be better if it were acoustic. (Shrugs) But that’s just my opinion.
Silence fills the garage.
Sawyer You really think so?
Hesse (considering) Might work. It’s worth giving a shot.
Prince Wait a minute. Just – wait a minute. (Turns to CHLOE) Acoustic? Are you kidding me? This song is all about the power. I’m trying to make a statement with the lyrics. The metal is to draw out the rawness of the heartbreak when the girl dumps the guy through a series of letters. And you’re telling me we should go acoustic?
Chloe You wanted my opinion.
Prince I didn’t need that.
Chloe Oh, you mean my criticism?
Prince No, I mean your unprofessional take on a song I put my heart and soul into. We put our heart and soul into.
Chloe I never claimed to be a professional. I’m just an assistant.
Sawyer I thought you said you haven’t agreed to it yet.
Prince Who wants an assistant like her?
Hesse (warningly) Prince. You’ve only just fired Keith. Walk it off.
Sawyer (to CHLOE) If you decide not to work for Prince, there’s always me. I’m a whole lot nicer, I promise. Plus, I’ll pay you double.
Prince Shut up, Sawyer. She’s my assistant. Besides, you know I need an assistant more than you do.
Sawyer What’s that supposed to mean?
Hesse Oh, come on, guys. Don’t do this.
Prince We all know I’m the Paul McCartney of this band. I can’t help it if everyone pays more attention to me, Sawyer, but you seem to think I’m stealing something from you.
SAWYER punches PRINCE across the face.
Prince (cries) Not the face! Not the face! My cheekbone! (To no one in particular) Is it dented? Am I still pretty? (Grabs CHLOE by the shoulders and shaking her) Am I?
Chloe You need to shut up and calm the hell down.
Sawyer (to PRINCE) You arrogant little bastard. I’ll make it bigger than you. And when that time comes, you’ll be begging me for an autograph to sell on eBay because you can’t afford the rent in that fancy-ass suite of yours.
Hesse Sawyer, come on. You know Prince. He doesn’t mean –
Sawyer Enough with the Prince thing already. His name is Ethan. If he can be a prince, I can be a duke or something.
JON starts playing a piece on his keyboard. The notes start out quiet, so that no one hears it at first. Gradually, it builds up into a strong melody that silences everyone. When it ends, everyone is staring at JON.
Jon We started out as a rock band. With a dream to share our music with the world. But what we are is a pop idol group. And we agreed to see that as just a platform, a stepping stone to what we really want, to become rock stars. Why the hell are you two fighting over who has more girls screaming over him?
PRINCE and SAWYER fidget in shame.
Hesse Yeah. Have a break, have a KitKat, or whatever. (Opens the mini fridge and pulling out a jumbo packet of chocolate) Sit. (Distributes chocolate all around) Now eat.
As everyone munches absently on chocolate, PRINCE pulls out a mini mirror from his back pocket and checks his face for damage.
Sawyer Look, I’m sorry about … (gestures to PRINCE’s face) you know. You’re still pretty, all right?
Prince I know. And I didn’t mean what I said. I mean, I am more popular than you, but it’s not like it matters. You know why I started out with this anyway; I didn’t mean to compete with anyone.
Sawyer (nodding) Have you settled all the debts at home?
PRINCE shakes his head.
Hesse But your mom said….
Prince What my mom doesn’t know won’t kill her. I told her I’ve settled everything.
Hesse Don’t you think she’ll find out somehow? And does she know about the tabloids?
Prince She collects every snippet of news about me. How can she not know? She’s been choking up my voicemail ever since.
Jon You can’t keep avoiding her. And you know, having her (gestures to CHLOE) around will only complicate things further.
Hesse Plus, Ben would never allow that. You’re his fattest cash cow –
Prince I’m fat?
He pulls off t-shirt to reveal his fine physique. CHLOE blushes furiously.
Sawyer Put that away, jeez! Are you trying to give us sore eyes?
Prince (to HESSE) Fat? Is this fat to you? (Flexes his abs and biceps) I keep this body in tiptop condition at all times, FYI. I’m a sight for sore eyes. (To CHLOE) Aren’t I?
Chloe (still blushing)
SAWYER, HESSE and JON roll their eyes.
Hesse Okay, okay. I take that back, okay? Now will you stop exhibiting yourself to us?
Prince (pulling his t-shirt back on) One thing at a time. First, no one is going to mention her to Ben. As soon as this whole thing with the paps blows over, we’ll all be too busy with the concerts for Ben to care about some assistant of mine. And as for my mom, that’s a distant problem we don’t have to worry about as long as I’m still raking in the money.
Jon But I don’t think that’s going to be a distant problem.
Prince You’re right. Of course it isn’t. It isn’t even a problem at all.
Jon No, I mean it’s more immediate than you think.
Prince … Why?
Hesse Well. Because she called. (Waves PRINCE’s cellphone) While you were out. Says she’s coming over. She’s on the next flight in from Greece.
Deathly silence creeps in.
Prince You couldn’t find a spare second to mention that earlier? Holy shit, Hesse! Holy freaking shit! My mom’s flying over? Dammit, Hesse! Dammit!
Hesse Hey, don’t shoot the messenger.
CHLOE goes over to PRINCE and slaps him.
Prince (screams) NOT THE FACE!
Chloe You’re sort of hysterical.
Prince Well, yeah, of course I am. My mother’s coming over!
Chloe And that’s … bad?
Hesse The last time his mother came over, she meddled so much Highway Heaven almost lost our contract with the record company. She means well, the sweet lady, but….
Prince (stares at CHLOE) We need to hide her. Now. My mom can’t see her!
Chloe What? I thought you said she’s not a problem!
Prince That was before I knew she’s flying over. (Grabs CHLOE’s hand and drags her to ) Rope. We need rope. Tie her up so she won’t leave this garage. Rope! Get me some rope!
Chloe You’re crazy! (Tears out of the garage)
Sawyer Beautiful! Don’t go! Aw, man. (Turns to PRINCE) Look what you did, assbag.
Hesse (stares after CHLOE) I think you just lost your assistant the same day you got her. What a record.
Blackout.

Play – The Missing Year

1.

A small shop selling precious stones accessories. DREW, AUNT HELEN AND SKYE are manning the shop. AUNT HELEN hands DREW a cream-coloured envelope.

Drew What’s this? A wedding invitation?

Aunt Helen It’s your mother’s birthday, you ingrate. Next Wednesday. You have to be there.

Drew Not without good reason.

Skye You’re her son. How’s that for a reason?

AUNT HELEN beams at her.

Drew Whose side are you on? (To AUNT HELEN) I didn’t attend last year. (Shrugs) Don’t see what difference it’ll make.

Aunt Helen (darkly) Last year was an exception and you know it.

A beat of silence.

Aunt Helen She wants to know how many guests you’re bringing.

Drew Funny how she always makes you the middle-woman. Can’t she bear to hear the sound of my voice?

Aunt Helen Would you have picked up her calls?

Drew (considers that) Fair point.

Aunt Helen It’s one thing to move out of her house, and another to ignore her calls and not even attend her birthday party.

Drew I just don’t understand why she wants me there. She’s just making us part of her plans to boost her PR image. You know, family and warm and shit. You realise this birthday party is just an excuse for her to network and get more people on board her plan for global hotel-chain domination.

Aunt Helen Drew. Enough already. (Turns to SKYE) I’m sorry you have to hear this. He gets like that when it comes to his mother.

Drew Fine. I’m bringing Skye, then. Happy?

Skye Why me?

Drew Because if I have to be paraded around on her birthday, I’ll need all the backup I can get. I’d really appreciate it if you could come.

Skye All right. Don’t bat your eyelashes at me. I’ll go, okay?

DREW leaves the shop. SKYE and AUNT HELEN watch his retreating back.

Aunt Helen If I didn’t know better, I’d say he got even more screwed up after leaving the sanatorium.

Blackout.

2.

A grand living room, carpeted and ornate. A huge chandelier hangs over the milling crowd. Enter DREW, AUNT HELEN AND SKYE.

Skye Remind me again why I’m standing here with you, looking like an idiot?

Drew Because I don’t want to look like an idiot alone. (Squirms in suit)

Skye Oh, that’s nice. You’re welcome, then. (Looks around at the well-dressed crowd) Seriously, I cannot believe you own all this.

Drew I don’t. My mother owns them.

Skye Which means you’ll get to own it one day.

Drew (rolling his eyes) Yeah, and this is me giving a shit.

Aunt Helen Don’t slouch, Drew. And don’t fold your arms. You’re at a formal event. Look smart, not defensive.

Drew I didn’t ask to come.

Aunt Helen Petulance is a horrid colour on you.

Enter ANNABELLE, Drew’s mother and HELEN’s sister. HELEN rushes over to hug her.

Aunt Helen Anna! Happy birthday.

Annabelle Thank you, Helen. (Turns to DREW) You came….

Drew Not of my own volition.

Aunt Helen (clearing her throat) And this is Skye, Drew’s best friend. You’ve met her before, I think.

Annabelle Yes. As I recall, she’s perhaps the only person Drew ever listens to.

Skye (offers her hand) Pleasure to meet you, Mrs Harm. Happy birthday. This is quite a party.

Annabelle Thank you. Although I prefer to call it a function. With guests of such calibre and status, it is nothing less than that, wouldn’t you agree?

Drew (snorts) Look, are you sure you issued the right invitation card? Wouldn’t this general disappointment of a son be something you’d want to hide away and pretend it doesn’t exist? It’s seemed to work all this while. What was the lie you fed them, anyway? Some bullshit about boarding school?

Annabelle Drew, I –

Drew I get it. Stay out of trouble and stay out of your way. Warning received.

SKYE tugs on his hand to shut him up. Annabelle notices and blatantly stares at their linked hands.

Annabelle (sighs and addresses SKYE and HELEN) Would you please enjoy yourselves. I see some old friends of mine just coming in.

ANNABELLE leaves them to their own. Drew grabs a glass of champagne and gulps it down.

Skye Wow, Drew. Your jerk score just skyrocketed, you know that?

Aunt Helen All I’m asking is that you behave yourself tonight. Okay, Drew? Just for tonight. No smart-assing, no vitriol. There are a lot of bigwigs here tonight – not to mention the media. Everyone will have a field day if you stir up any nonsense.

Skye Your aunt’s right. I mean, you hate her, I get it. But she’s the boss of Heron Hotels. Her reputation’s at stake if you –

Drew If she’s that afraid of me stirring up shit for her, then why did she even ask me to come? She could’ve gone on ignoring my presence like she’s had ever since I left the sanatorium.

A microphone thumps from the podium. ANNABELLE stands there and addresses the crowd. Cameras flash from the reporters.

Annabelle I’d like to thank all of you for being here this evening. As you may have heard, this function is not simply organised in light of my birthday; I have a public announcement to make. (Waits for everyone to be silent before continuing) I have chosen my son, Drew, as my successor. Come next Monday, I will be training him personally so that by the end of the year he will oversee all of Heron Hotels’ operations at the managerial level.

A commotion stirs amongst the crowd.

Drew (incredulous) What?

Reporter I heard your son had a brief stint in the Hopewood sanatorium, and has a record for assault. Are you confident about handing over the reins to him?

The commotion grows louder.

Annabelle (raising her voice over the din) I will say this once: that is a false report.

Reporter So you’re denying that he spent the whole of last year in the sanatorium?

Annabelle My son spent a year in an overseas boarding school. I have the acceptance letter from the headmaster as proof and should anyone still be in doubt, I suggest you seek a letter from the headmaster to confirm his attendance. I’m sure he will gladly issue one.

Drew (mutters) This is ridiculous.

Skye Drew, don’t… You can talk this out with her later. Don’t go nuts and do something you’ll regret later.

Drew Trust me, I’ll regret not doing this more.

He stalks over to the podium and brings the microphone to his mouth.

Drew Look. None of this matters because I’m not going to work for her.

Skye (buries her face in her hands) I can’t watch.

Annabelle (through clenched teeth) Drew. Now that you’re up here, why don’t we –?

Drew No. And for the record, yes, I was in a sanatorium for the whole of last year because I beat up a guy who was being a prick to my aunt. My mother apparently considered this sort of behaviour clinically insane. Hence the stint in the nuthouse. But I guess considering he wasn’t the first prick I beat up, maybe I’m not that sane after all. Might want to reconsider your decision, Mom.

DREW leaves the podium and tears out of the house. The audience is left in stunned silence, before erupting in a frenzy of tongues. AUNT HELEN and SKYE leave before reporters can hound them.

Aunt Helen I am going to skin that boy alive.

They find DREW waiting by AUNT HELEN’s beat-up car.

Skye What the hell, Drew!

Aunt Helen Drew. (Sighs) I know you blame her for sending you to the sanatorium, but you were out of control. After your father died….

Drew (growls) Don’t.

Skye (timidly) Does this … does this really have to do with – you know, your dad?

Drew No, this has nothing to do with my dad, okay? And I’m not acting out just so I can get some attention – least of all from her. The only thing she bothered to do was chuck me into Hopewood, anyway. Fastest, easiest way to wash her hands off me.

ANNABELLE appears behind him.

Annabelle Is that what you think? That I couldn’t wait to have you out of my hair? You really think so?

Drew (whirls around) I know so. You couldn’t even be bothered to step into Hopewood.

Annabelle I didn’t visit you in Hopewood because….

Drew Yeah, I know. Your reputation. It’s all about your reputation. Your empire.

A swarm of reporters catch up with them. They are a whirl of camera flashes and noise.

Annabelle (urgently) This conversation is not over. I’ll talk with you later. Go.

DREW, AUNT HELEN and SKYE pack into AUNT HELEN’s car and drive off. DREW stares at the side-view mirror, watching his mother battle the onslaught of media hounds.

Drew Happy birthday, Mother.

Blackout.

Play – Dollhouse

1.

A draughty old attic. Dogs barking in the distance. Enter AMY, sitting before her dollhouse with a doll in her hand.
Amy (dressing her doll) There you go, Amelie. Daddy will be coming home soon, so I should probably tuck you to bed now. He doesn’t like it when I play with you, you see. But you’ll be fine, won’t you? Daddy didn’t hurt you that much the other time. But you must understand. He doesn’t mean any harm. Well, I don’t know that much about him, but Mommy told me he’s a good man. He’s nice to us … most of the time. Did you know? He bought me a new tricycle the other day and took me out for ice-cream, just the two of us, after my visit to the dentist. And at dinner he called me his little princess, and Mommy his big princess, and Mommy said what did that make him then and he said that made him our prince of course. He said we’ll be one big happy family and we’ll all be very happy and Mommy smiled and said yes and I smiled and said yes too and then Daddy asked if I wanted more ice-cream and I said yes again, yes please, that is…
(A slam of the front door.)
Amy (freezes) Daddy’s home!
She shoves the doll into the dollhouse, creeps out of the room and down the stairs.
2.

Downstairs. Kitchen. Enter BROWNER, who tosses keys on the table.

Browner (muttering to himself) Bitch. What the hell does she take me for? Come and go as I please, my foot! Like I’m not the one stuffing her with money every week. Like all I do isn’t sponsor her shopping sprees and weekend getaways and spa sessions and salon visits. And now she tells me I’m an irresponsible jerk? Because oh sure, as long as I don’t treat her like a fucking queen and act as her personal slave and along with being her ATM machine, I’m an irresponsible jerk. Never mind if she’s dumping her daughter at home alone. Never mind if I’m the one who has to take her to the dentist. (sarcastically) Because my job is a freelance one, anyway, right?

3.
Backyard. Enter CHRISTIE, on the phone.

Christie (twirling a lock of her hair) So I said to him, If you want to leave, fine by me. I don’t need you anyway. But then he yelled, Fine, I’m leaving! And then I realized I can’t do that. I can’t do that to my baby. She needs him. We need him. I love him, I really do. But it’s not just about me anymore. Amy needs a father. (Voice starts to waver.) She’s been so lonely, the poor child. She stays in that creepy old attic all day and keeps talking to those dolls her grandmother left for her. I’m telling you, I’m worried. What if all this has affected her more than I thought?

4.
Enter BROWNER. He bursts through the screen door into the backyard, having overheard CHRISTIE’S conversation.
Browner (folding his arms and appraising his wife) So, you’ve realized. And here I was, beginning to think you’ve completely forgotten you have a daughter.
CHRISTIE hangs up the phone hurriedly and turns to face him.
Christie Browner. You’re home.
Browner Surprised? Trust me, you’ll be more surprised to find that your daughter’s grown up in a few years and you don’t even recognize her. (Cuts CHRISTIE off as she begins to speak) No, you listen to me. You know what? The kindergarten called. They told me Amy’s becoming increasingly antisocial, and even rejects the company of her peers. She shuns them, Christie. Which normal kid do you know rejects the idea of a friend? She’s getting unhealthily attached to those ridiculous dolls and I’ve told you before but did you listen? No, of course not. The kid’s not mine. I wouldn’t know a thing about her; I have no right to say anything. But guess what? I’m the one who’s taking care of her these days, while you go off gallivanting and throwing my money to the wind.
5.

AMY sits at the foot of the stairs, clutching the rag doll in her pocket as she listens in on her parents’ conversation.

Amy (whispers) Shh. Be quiet, Nora. Mommy’s upset. You hate to see her upset, don’t you? Remember the last time she cried? (Buries face in the doll) She told me I’m all she has. Mommy says she wants me to be happy, and when I’m happy, she says she’s happy. She says we need love to be happy. And Amy loves Mommy, and Mommy loves Daddy. And Daddy loves Amy and Mommy. But Mommy’s not happy now, is she? She’s crying. Daddy’s yelling at her, and she’s yelling back. They’re upset, Nora. Mommy and Daddy are upset. (Tears begin to well up in her eyes.) Mommy says she’s unhappy when I’m unhappy. Am I making her cry now? Am I, Nora? Is Mommy crying because of me?

She watches her mother and step-father quarrel for a while longer before charging up the stairs and returning to her room.


6.

Christie Browner, look. You knew what you signed up for when you agreed to marry me. You said you knew! And you said you didn’t mind one bit that I have Amy. In fact, I distinctly remember you telling me you’ll treat her like your own.

Browner And I haven’t? And this is not what this is about – you know that.

Christie If I wanted money, I’d have easily found any person to fill in your seat. Why would I have chosen to be with you? You think that you can just throw me some pocket money a month and be rid of me? Well, I’m sorry if I’m such a hindrance to you. I’m sorry you don’t see me as an adequate wife or mother to Amy and you’re the one bearing all the responsibilities in this family. (Voice wavers, then breaks.)

Browner (softens) You’re being ridiculous, Christie.

Christie Yes, I am. In fact, I’m ridiculous enough to go upstairs and get my baby so we can get the hell away from you. I’m through with you, Browner. I’m through with you never being around. I’m through with feeling like I can’t do without you –
Browner You can’t. You know that.

With a sob, Christie flounces back into the house and bursts into her daughter’s room, the draughty old attic.

Christie Amy? (Looks around.) Baby? (A tremble in her voice)
The room is empty. The dollhouse is gone, as are all Amy’s dolls.