Synaesthesia /n. 1 Psychol. The production of a mental sense-impression retaliating to one sense by the stimulation of another sense. 2 a sensation produced in a part of the body by stimulation of another part. Synaesthesiae, plural
Poynton: Conservative, left-brain nerd in his mid forties. Science professor atUniversity. Married with one teen-aged daughter.
Clara: Nineteen year old daughter of Poynton. Strong willed, creative who wants to study art in Uni.
Neve: Mother and wife of Clara and Poynton respectively. Mid forties. Intelligent and stylish
Dr. B: Forty-something female Psychiatrist. Worn out on pills and whiskey.
[While all house lights are down, the word ‘synaesthesia’ and its dictionary definition is projected on screen UC. Each letter in the word is in a different colour. The definition is in white letters. Lights up. Center stage only. Psychiatrist’s office. A chaise lounge sits sideways with a chair behind it facing downstage. Dr. B is sitting in chair. Enter Neve.]
Dr. B: [Standing] Hello, Neve. I’m glad you decided to return. Please. Come in.
Neve: Well, I had to give it a chance, didn’t I?
Dr. B: Yes, of course. I’m very glad that you did. [Gesturing to the chaise] Make yourself comfortable. Would you like a sedative?
Neve: No, thanks. I think I’ll go without one today if it’s all the same to you.
Dr. B: Sure, that’s fine. I’ll just have a small one myself. [She pulls a small pill case from the inside pocket of her blazer and pops a pill dry. Composing herself, she straightens her blazer and sits up in her chair] Now, Neve. Just let me go through my notes from last week to see where we left off. [flipping pages of a notepad] Right. [affixing reading glasses] Let’s seee. Oh, yes. Very interesting. Your husband and daughter both suffer from synaesthesia but neither of them knows about the other. Is that about right?
Neve: Sort of. Neither of them is necessarily suffering. What you first need to understand is that they don’t have a very close relationship. I mean they’re always arguing. It’s bloody incessant. [Lights down]
Dr. B: And what is it they argue about?
Neve: It’s going to sound so ridiculous.
Dr. B: I’m sure it won’t, Neve. What is it?
Neve: They argue over what’s more important, art or science. It drives me bloody mad. You should hear them.
[Lights up. DL only. Poynton and Clara are standing facing each other. Poynton is wearing white-framed reading glasses, a white shirt and tie with a white belt, white slacks and white shoes and socks. Neve is also in all white, including several white, plastic bracelets, a white bandanna tied on her head, and dangling white earrings. They are arguing.
Clara: What is it with you, Dad? Why can’t you get it through those thick glasses of yours? Art is important. Art is relevant. Without it we’d all be swimming in your bloody theorems and logarithms. And oh, lest I forget, your prized integral calculus. Maybe Mom should’ve given birth to a square root. God knows she married one.
Poynton: How dare you! Don’t you ever talk to me that way, missy. You will respect me in my house. And if you intend on staying here you will give up any hope of studying art next year. Art will get you nothing in this world but bloody filth under your nails and the dole on a platter. Is that what you’re striving for? I sure as hell didn’t pay all those private school fees to see my daughter become some bludging artist.
Clara: Yeah, like I’m gonna’ be on the dole. Do you even have the slightest clue how much money good painters make in New York and Paris, Poynton?
Poynton: Don’t you call me that.
Clara: What? Your name?
Poynton: It’s the way you say it. Don’t pretend you don’t know what you’re doing.
Clara: What’s wrong, Poynton? Don’t like the sound of your own name?
Poynton: Go to hell, Missy!
[Lights up. Center stage only. Psychiatrist’s office. Neve still talking to doctor]
Neve: [her voice fades in] --some bludging artist, and things like that. He’s not a bad man; he just can’t see the beauty in things. I think the best compliment he ever gave me was to say how red my lipstick was on our wedding day. That’s just Poynton. He’s a damn fine professor. I mean he’s earned the respect of his colleagues and students. It’s just that his scope in confined by numbers, and that doesn’t allow room for anything else. Especially art.
Dr. B: Neve, have you ever tried to open--P-Poindexter is it?
Dr. B: Right. Have you ever tried to introduce him to the arts in any way or form?
Neve: Well, there was that time I took him to a multi-media show at the Fringe Festival.
Dr. B: And how did that go?
[Lights up. DL only. Poynton standing alone, looking up at an imaginary exhibit. His head is slightly tilted and his arms are crossed]
Poynton: What the hell is that? It looks like regurgitated pasta!
[Lights up. Center stage only. Psychiatrist’s office]
Dr. B: Riight. So, Poynton is neither open to, nor impressed by new artistic experiences.
Neve: No. Well, not until recently.
Dr. B: And what’s happened to change this?
Neve: Well. [beat] He became a synner.
Dr. B: Synner? What do you mean?
Neve: It’s what they call themselves. I saw it on the Internet. They spell it S-Y-N. Anyway, one day it just happened. I don’t know... (voice fades with lights)
[Lights up. DR only. Poynton standing in front of blackboard filled with mathematical equations, lecturing to imaginary class]
Poynton: Analytic functions act on complex numbers, numbers of the form a + bi, in which ‘i’ signifies the imaginary square root [looks around uncomfortably. Clears his throat] of negative one. Analytic function establishes a relationship between the complex--
[Suddenly a high-pitched squeak sounds in the classroom. Poynton jerks away from the blackboard. His white attire shines with a direct spotlight of deep red that only lasts a split second. The flash of red is accented by a solitary piano note which reverberates as he looks around nervously, straightening his glasses]
Poynton: What was that? [He takes a few nervous seconds to compose himself before continuing on his lecture] Uh, where was I? Um, well yes, complex, uh, complex numbers are traditionally denoted by the letter ‘z’, as proven by Bieberbach. The magnitude of a complex number--
[The noise is heard again, and continues in staggered metre. Poynton’s clothes again light up in red, the piano notes also bellow as he drops the chalk, looking around, holding his head with a simultaneous look of fear and pleasure.]
Poynton: [Yelling frantically] What in God’s name is that sound? Where is it coming from? [He’s walking up and down the imaginary aisles of the classroom, addressing random imaginary students] You’ve done something haven’t you? Was it you? What’s this? A radio?
[He grabs the imaginary radio, miming the act of turning up the volume. The voice-over of a sports announcer is giving commentary of a basketball game. We can hear the occasional squeak of the player’s shoes on the wood of the court. Poynton’s body shines in red with each squeak. He holds the radio to his ear, tilting his head back and closing his eyes with each rush of colour. He starts laughing maniacally. The laughter eventually dies down with the lights.]
[Lights up. Center stage only. Psychiatrists office]
Dr. B: And what did Poynton do when this happened?
Neve: He didn’t know what to do. He rushed himself to the emergency room thinking one of his students had slipped him a Mickey. The doctor told him he was fine. When he called me and told me what had happened, I knew what it was straight away.
Dr. B: Because of Clara.
Neve: Yes. Clara’s been experiencing synaesthesia for as long as she can remember. But Poynton has no idea. When she was six and he would try to teach her new math equations she would run off to the backyard and hide in the shed. When I would go back to see what was wrong, I’d find her madly drawing pictures with a box of crayons she had stashed. They were beautiful pictures, abstract and a little eerie. But, I knew she had a unique talent. We kept it from Poynton because it was our special secret, our bond. I knew Poynton wouldn’t understand nor accept it, so I kept it to myself.
Dr. B: Let me ask you, Neve. With Poynton’s synaesthesia it was the particular sound that set him off. What do you think sends Clara into her artistic state?
Neve: Well, it’s obvious isn’t it?
[Lights up. DR only. Clara standing in front of a large canvas that rests on and easel. She is surrounded by several blackboards smattered with mathematical equations. Several different coloured spotlights shine on her intermittently, while she recites the equations out loud. The high-pitched notes of an electronic keyboard sound with each new colour that lights her white attire. With a closed-eye smile she appears to be euphoric in her craft. She finally ends the recitation of numbers with an orgasmic squeal. Lights drop except for the purple spot which still shines her person. She stands, brush still in hand, with her head slumped down, exhausted. Two beats. Purple light comes down.]
[Lights up. Center stage only. Psychiatrist’s office.]
Dr. B: I see. Now we’re really getting to the heart of the matter. So Clara, it seems, would be embarrassed if her father knew how she truly felt about numbers--more specifically--mathematical equations. So by you and Clara keeping it from Poynton, you are, in effect, quelling a potentially irreparable situation. Would that be a fair assessment?
Neve: Well, I suppose. But you’re missing the other side of it, doctor.
Dr. B: No I’m not, Neve. I’m just waiting for you to say it.
Neve: Um, well I suppose Poynton also risks humiliation should Clara become privy to his newly found appreciation for the beauty of colour. And I can’t contribute to the shame of either of them. Therefore, I must protect their secrets. But I need to know doctor, how long should I go on like this? It’s killing me knowing that in all their distrust for each other, they actually share a phenomenon that most people would give anything for. Just to experience for one day, one moment.
Dr. B: Neve, I’m going to ask you a question, and I want you to be perfectly honest with me.
Dr. B: Neve. Are you now, or have you ever been a homosexual?
Neve: [Sitting up, surprised] Huh?
Dr. B: [Containing laughter] Just kidding. It’s an old psychiatry joke. No, but seriously. [Beat] Neve, is there anything you can think of that makes you see colours like Clara and Poynton do?
Neve: [Lying back, still shaken from the Dr.’s sick joke.] Hmm. Well, if you must know.
[Single spotlight comes up on a dildo standing on end on a pedestal DL. The loud buzzing is heard for a few seconds as the light changes from white to yellow to orange to red. All lights drop, buzzing fades]
[Lights up. Center stage only. Psychiatrist’s office.]
Dr. B: Riight. I don’t think that qualifies you as a synner, Neve. But, we’ll come back to that. [Makes a note in her pad] Would you like a quick nip?
Neve: No, thank you.
Dr. B: I’m just going to dip in, if you don’t mind. Pardon me, won’t you?
[Dr. B reaches under the chaise, producing a silver flask. She pours a shot into the lid and swills it. She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand, slips the flask back under the chaise, composes herself and continues.]
Dr. B: Ahh. Barbiturates and whiskey make such a lovely cocktail. Now, back to business. Okay, so we’ve established the reason your husband and daughter don’t want to be found out by each other. But, I think there’s something more than the shame factor at work with regards to your inability to expose the truth, Neve. How do you feel about what I’ve just said?
Neve: I don’t know, doctor.
Dr. B: Neve, if you genuinely want to progress here you must be honest with me. I won’t take the ‘I don’t know’ answer again. We’re here to dig deep into your psyche for answers. Now, are you willing to relinquish your fear and give in to an effective resolution?
Neve: Yes, doctor. I am. Please forgive me. This is my first attempt at therapy, and I do want it to work. It’s just that I’ve always been able to solve my own problems, and this situation is putting my integrity to the test.
Dr. B: That’s perfectly understandable, Neve, and I realise this forum may be a bit awkward for you. But, you must also realise that I’m in the business of understanding and healing. You must learn to trust me. Are you sure you
won’t have a pill?
Dr. B: Fine. Then let me ask you again. How do you feel about what I said before?
Neve: What was it exactly that you said, doctor?
Dr. B: [Angrily slapping her notepad] Godammit, Neve! This is what I’m talking about. Why aren’t you listening to me? Am I a bloody mirage or something? Am I keeping you from a nap? Tell me, please!
[Dr. B goes for the flask again, rashly pours a shot and downs it. Neve is sitting up, expressing a look of fear.]
Dr. B: I’m sorry. My goodness. [Forcibly calming herself through deep breaths] Now, Neve, I want you to close your eyes with me and concentrate.
[Neve is looking at the doctor nervously, not wanting to close her eyes.]
Dr. B: It’s alright, Neve. I’m alright. You’re alright. We’re alll alright. Focus, Neve. Close your eyes and listen to the questions I ask. They’re not difficult. You just need to open your ear canals and allow the words to permeate your consciousness. Do you think you can do that for me, Neve?
Neve: [Obediently] Yes, doctor.
Dr. B: Okay, then. Let us continue. Now, Neve, do you love your family?
Neve: Of course, doctor.
Dr. B: Then why are you intentionally withholding information that could quite possibly bond the two of them?
Neve: I told you, I—
Dr. B: DA! Careful! Be very careful, and think this out before you answer, Neve.
Neve: Well. [Pause] I suppose I enjoy the bond I’m sharing with each of them on separate levels, and, well, I guess if I bring them together then they’ll have that bond, and I’ll be left out?
Dr. B: [Sighing] For the love of God, thank you! Now, how hard was that?
Neve: Very hard, actually.
Neve: Yeah? Well, welcome to my world. You’d think in all my years of psychiatry I’d be able to get an honest answer in a reasonable amount of time. But it never ceases to amaze me the utter feces I must wade through before reaching a summit. I should get a bloody medal sometimes.
Neve: I’m sorry, doctor.
Dr. B: Aw, it’s not you, Neve. It’s this whole friggin’ practice. I mean, how am I supposed to get your neurons firing while all my senses are dulled by these damn pills they keep dumping on me? Just forget I said anything, and let’s march on. [Drops her head in her hand]
Neve: Are you sure you’re up to this, doctor? I can come back tomorrow if you need a rest.
Dr. B: I think that might be best, Neve. Just answer me one question. What will you do?
[Neve lies silent. Lights down]
[Lights up. DL only. Classroom. Poynton just finishing lecture.]
Poynton: Okay, that’s all for today. Remember, the person who can solve today’s equation will get their solution posted in next month’s issue of Nutty Numbers. So get crackin’. [Nerdy chuckle]
Poynton: Shnookums! What a pleasant surprise. [Patting his pockets] Did I forget my tinea cream again?
Neve: No, darling. I just came to talk.
Poynton: Oh. Is everything alright, pumpkin?
Neve: Sit down, Poynton.
Neve: Just sit.
Poynton: [worried] Okay. But, what pray tell is the meaning of—
Neve: Poynton, why don’t you ever talk about your gift?
Poynton: My what?
Neve: Your gift, Poynton. Have you no idea what I’m talking about?
Poynton: [Looking guilty] Oh, you mean that.
Neve: Of course that. See? You can’t even say it, can you?
Poynton: Yes, Neve. I can say it.
Neve: Then say it, Poynton. It’s not a curse, you know. You shout be proud of it.
Poynton: I’m not ashamed, Neve.
Neve: Of what, Poynton?
Poynton: [Looking down at his shoes] Of my synaesthesia.
Neve: Then why won’t you ever talk about it? Why must we hide it from our daughter?
Poynton: You know why.
Neve: Are you frightened of how you’ll be judged? As a hypocrite? Do you really think Clara would be so cruel? So shallow?
Poynton: I don’t know, Neve. Do we really have to talk about this? What does it matter? It’s not doing anyone any harm, least of all me. Since when did you care so much about Clara knowing anyway?
Neve: Since now, Poynton. Because she thinks you can’t appreciate her interests, the things that make her who she is, the colours, the feelings of exaltation, the love of the affliction.
[Neve looks surprised at her unexpected disclosure. She looks at Poynton awkwardly]
[Neve remains silent, staring at the floor]
Poynton: Neve? What do you mean the love of the affliction?
[Neve looks up slowly. She stares into Poynton’s eyes for a few seconds then takes his hands]
Neve: The love of her affliction, Poynton. Just like your own. Am I getting through to you?
[Poynton sits looking confused]
Neve: I’m trying to tell you that Clara also has synaesthesia. She has since she was six years old. I’ve kept it from you all these years because I was scared I might lose a connection with her. I wanted to tell you as she got older, but then you started at her with your anti-art campaign, always butting heads. You should’ve been more understanding, Poynton. Why wouldn’t you listen to your own daughter’s plea for freedom of expression? Why did you have to be such a Godamned stuffed shirt? Did you forget our days at Uni? We were once young. For Christ’s sake, we dropped acid at the Doors concert. Did you forget that, Poynton?
Poynton: [Looking around nervously] I did no such thing, Neve. And keep your voice down. I’m a respected professor, and these walls have ears like Mickey Mouse.
Neve: We did, Poynton. We dropped during Light My Fire and were tripping by The End. We had sex right there on the grass of the stadium.
Poynton: Neve! For God’s sake, lower your voice. What the hell has gotten into you?
Neve: I know what got into me that night, Poynton. And it wasn’t anywhere near as good again until you became a synner.
Poynton: [Standing] That will be all, Neve! I won’t sit here and listen to this lewdness any longer. Now, go home and settle down. My next class begins in thirty minutes, and I’m meeting a colleague for lunch.
Clara: [Offstage] Poynton? You ready for some chow? [Her voice gets closer] I’m starv--
[Enter Clara. BehindNeve’s backPoynton is waving Clara away. Clara stops in her tracks at the sight of her mother. As Clara comes to a halt, her runners make a squeak on the linoleum floor, sending Poynton into a colourful fit, flushed by a purple spotlight. A single piano note reverberates. When it’s over, Clara and Neve look at each other awkwardly. Several seconds of silence follow]
Neve: [somberly] Oh, Clara. Baby, I’m so sorry. I never wanted to deceive you, darling.
Neve: No. Please, Clara, let me get this out. I need to get a lot of things out in the open, and now that you’ve seen this--and I know you can identify with it-- we need to be honest with each other; clear the air as it were. [Clara takes a seat next to Poynton, looking at him guardedly] First of all, you both need to know that I’ve been going to therapy lately. And...the reason for this is because I feel I’ve let you both down.
[Clara and Poynton speak simultaneously]
Poynton: No, doll. Clara: No, Mum
Neve: Please you two, let me say what I have to say. It’s been a long time coming, and I want to get it right. [Pause. Clara and Poynton shift in their chairs uncomfortably] As a wife and mother I have a responsibility, a duty. Like...like a seamstress in a small country village grading and cutting patterns, threading needles, winding bobbins to enable her to collate the textiles of her trade and all her knowledge in order to make the perfect denim jacket. Do you see where I’m going with this?
[Clara and Poynton are looking at each other confused]
Neve: I am the seamstress. You two are the fabric of my being. You are the denim jacket that keeps this family warm.
Clara: Mum, please. Can I say something?
Neve: Clara. Oh, baby Clara. I know you’re hurt. I only ever wanted to be your friend, your soul mate. Someone you could always trust with your secrets. And now I feel I’ve let you down by not being honest with this. [Gesturing to Poynton]
Poynton: Neve, you have no reason to feel guilty. You’re an exceptional woman. No one can ever deny you that. We both love and respect you dearly. You are our seamstress with your own designer label that no one can imitate.
Neve: That’s sweet, Poynton, but nothing can dispel the fact that I have been deceiving the both of you for several years. I am not worthy of my role as seamstress.
Clara: Mum, can we drop the lame metaphor please? Listen to me, and listen very carefully. It’s not you who has been deceiving. It’s us. [She looks at Poynton for support, who shakes his head affirmatively] Mum. This is rally hard for me to say. Um, I need to tell you that, uh. [To Poynton] Shit, jump in any time, Poynton.
Poynton: Yes, Neve, there’s something you need to know.
[Neve looks nervous]
Neve: I’m listening.
Clara: Well, it’s just--Dad and I have known about each other’s conditions for over a year now.
[Neve sits silent, unable to process the information]
Poynton: It was my idea not to tell you, honey. Clara told me how you protected her secret as a child, and I just couldn’t break that bond the two of you had.
Neve: Am I to understand, Poynton, that all the arguments I’ve had to endure between the two of you over the much-repeated art and science issue, not to mention countless other meaningless spats were all just an act to protect me? How in God’s name could you possibly think that my seeing the two people I love most in this world at each other’s throats day in and day out would possibly solve anything?
Poynton: No, Neve. Like Clara said, we only found out about each other last year. All the debates before that were real. We never really liked each other until we found our commonality. By that time, were so used to fighting that keeping up the facade just came naturally.
Neve: And how, pray tell, did the two of you find out about each other?
[Clara and Poynton look at each other, both wanting the other to speak]
Neve: Well? Is someone going to answer my goddamn question?
Poynton: It was an accident, love. Your diary had fallen off the bedside table. It lay on the ground opened. I read it and—
Neve: Jesus, Poynton! Is there anything else you care to tell me while you’ve got my trust on a cutting board? C’mon! Drop the hatchet. I can’t believe you read my diary. And then to cover it up? What the hell is the matter with you? You couldn’t just ask me about it?
Neve: Stay out of this, Clara. This doesn’t concern you one bit.
Clara: But, Mum--
Neve: Forget it, Clara. You dear Poynton is going to have to face up to his sins.
[Clara stands to leave. She places a hand on Neve’s shoulder, Neve reciprocates the gesture. Clara walks away. Before she leaves, and without turning around, she intentionally drags her shoes on the linoleum which makes the loud squeaking noise that causes Poynton to go into an extended colour fit. Lights go down.]
[Lights up. Center stage only. Psychiatrist’s office. Dr. B is sitting in her chair. Enter Neve.]
Dr. B: Oh, hello, Neve. Welcome back. I’m so glad to see you. I’m feeling much better today, and I do apologize for the last--
[Neve approaches Dr. B who is slowly backing away as Neve opens Dr. B’s blazer, reaches into the inside pocket and pulls out the pill case. She opens it, counts out two pills, places the case back into the blazer. She slowly walks to the chaise lounge, lies down, reaches under the lounge without looking, pulling out the silver flask. She pours a shot into the lid, pops the pills in her mouth and downs the whiskey, wiping her mouth with her sleeve. Dr. B, watching Neve all the while, smiles, pulls out the pill box, walks over to the chaise, takes the whiskey and two of her own pills, lies down next to Neve on the chaise.]
Dr. B: Well. [Pause] Let’s start from the beginning.