SYNAESTHESIA - A one-act play

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

 

 

 

Characters:

 

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.

 

 

 

Scene.--

[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 drop]

 

                  [Lights up. DL onlyPoynton 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 down]

 

                    [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?

 

Neve:          Poynton

 

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 down]

                   

                    [Lights up.  DL onlyPoynton 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 down]

 

                    [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 metrePoynton’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 down]

 

                    [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.

 

Neve:          Okay.

 

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.

 

                    [Lights drop]

 

                    [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?

 

Neve:          Quite.

 

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 onlyClassroom.  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]

 

                    [Enter Neve]

 

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]

 

Poynton:     Hmmm.

 

                    [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.

 

Clara:          Mum—

 

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?

 

Clara:          Mum—

 

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.