Planet Astroturf

June 20, 2010

Disclaimer: The following script was originally written as an entry for the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild’s “First Time Out” project. It will be performed, along with a number of other works, in September. It is published here on the basis of an informal understanding with The Guild that I have the right to do so. If anyone has any objection to it being here, please contact me, either in the comments or be e-mail, and I will take it down. Please don’t sue me, officer!


Scene 1: O Mother

Ted and Norah stumble into a studio apartment, kissing and undressing. Ted removes coat and throws it downstage. Pair fall onto bed. As Ted leans over Norah stage goes black. Light resumes with Ted animate but Norah frozen. Female Sprite is now on stage behind them, dressed as Ted’s mother. Ted is frantic.

Ted: No, not now, fuck…

F. Sprite: Good evening dear. I’m really sorry to interrupt you- now I know that you’re all grown up and you’re your own man now- you make your own decisions, and I won’t make any comment on that because it’s your own business- but I’ll just say that you should remember you’re a wonderful young man and shouldn’t ever settle for anything less than the best- I’m not implying anything, not at all- I’m sure you’re having a wonderful time, and again, it’s entirely your business (walks towards Ted and puts arm around his shoulder) but I think it is a mother’s place to say, I just want you to be safe, so this is just a little reminder I’m bringing you with the help of our friends at Information Solutions Inc.: (leans in to whisper conspiratorially) you did remember protection, didn’t you?

Ted: The fuck! (Rolls off bed and away from sprite). You-! I-! What? Why? (Takes phone from coat pocket and throws it at Sprite, missing).

F. Sprite: I’m sorry dear, I really am, but (descends to same whisper as earlier) you did take them?

Ted: Yes I goddamn took them! (Takes pack of condoms from coat pocket and throws them at sprite, hitting her). There, you unholy freak. Suck on them!

F. Sprite: (Inspects packet). Oh no, Ted, no, no. How many times do I have to tell you? Durex brand condoms are no good: they’re antiques! No woman could gain pleasure from their primitive ribbing-technology. And according to reputed scientific authorities, they have microscopic gaps in the rubber that result from their being made on out-dated equipment by unskilled illegal immigrants. Did you know that many sexually transmitted infections can be transmitted by the tiny particles that penetrate these gaps? You don’t want to experience the humiliation of giving your woman an uncomfortable and embarrassing illness in exchange for a mediocre pleasure-experience. Try new Excelsior-brand condoms. Ergonomically designed for maximal pleasure, they’re up to 40% safer than-

Ted: (Puts up hand, interrupts in dejected voice) How many do I want?

F. Sprite: (Pause) With our basic value pack, you can buy six today for only five ninety-nine.

Ted: I’ll take six.

Sprite: For a limited time, however, we’re offering twenty-four for just fifteen ninety-nine, with a bonus hundred credits to our gift-reward-loyalty program if you-

Ted: I’ll take twenty-four.

F. Sprite: (Pause) Also dear, I’ve noticed that you’re paying more than thirty-nine ninety-nine a month on line rental. But I was having a nice cup of tea with your aunt Catherine the other day, and she was telling me that if you take your home and mobile phones over to Nokia, you can pay just forty-four ninety-nine on both plans, and receive unlimited-

Ted: Sign me up.

F. Sprite: Thank you dear.

Stage goes black. When lights resume F. Sprite has disappeared and Ted is back in the position he was before the first black out. Norah has unfrozen.

Ted: (Jumping back away from Norah) Jesus!

Norah: (Only momentarily confused) Another ad?

Ted: Yeah.

Norah: A bad one? (Ted nods) Do you want to talk about it?

Ted: Not really.

Norah: Can you still-?

Ted: Not a chance. (Picks up and puts on his coat). That’s the twenty-nine ninety-ninth ad break this week, and they’re getting worse. I can’t so much as buy a cup of Nescafé Post-Modern Blend without being sold a J.F.K. Memorial Berliner, a seat at Starbucks and a copy of the Penguin Classics Edition of War and Peace.

Norah: War and Peace?

Ted: Yep.

Norah: Which translation?

Ted: Some barely intelligible nineteenth century one. Apparently my self-identity scans are showing a trend towards the Euro-Bohemian look. Later in the week they sent me brainwaves to buy a beret and a bottle of absinthe.

Norah: Absinthe?

Ted: Yeah, absinthe. I actually kind of liked it. Do you want some? I think I left a bottle of it here somewhere.

Norah: You’ve been keeping absinthe in my apartment?

Ted: Yeah, sorry. I got a little confused on Wednesday when I had four ninety-nine breaks in an hour, so I stayed here for a little while, trying to figure out why I looked like a wino-beatnik. Would you like some?

Norah: Nobody likes absinthe. You’re just telling yourself you like it because your personal-brand drive is momentarily overpowering your actual sense of taste enough that you want to like it.

Ted: (Finding bottle and pouring himself a glass) Yeah, well, let the illusion last a bit, I want to get drunk before I go home.

Norah: It was that bad?

Ted: Yeah, I’m sorry. But hey, it’s not the end of the world. We’ve got as much time as we need. If it didn’t work out tonight, well, we’ve literally got an infinite supply of nights.

Norah: Do we Ted?

Ted: Well, sure. That’s why we let Information Solutions Inc. put those receivers and transmitters in our brains. They get the best marketing tool in the world, and in exchange we get health insurance. And thanks to that clever Professor de Brey, that means we live forever, literally.

Norah: Yeah Ted, but it also means the ads last forever too. If you can’t handle them now, what makes you think it’ll ever be better?

Ted: You think I’ll wind up one of those psychotics spending all eternity in the asylums? That’s if they actually keep them in there? Personally I think they just gas them. Think about it, we’d never know the difference if they did or not. No one actually visits the nutters, they’re such a downer that if you talked to one you’d go mad too. (Norah doesn’t respond). Whatever, look, I’m sorry about tonight, I’ll see you later or something. (Ted exits).

End Scene 1

Scene 2: Freedom of the Park

Ted sits on a park bench. Male Sprite is strutting around him. In the background One-Hand Wide-Awake and The-Student Wide-Awake are frozen. The Park is filled entirely with astroturf.

M. Sprite: Well, sir, relationship troubles? Work-stress? Inability to reconcile the fact of your omnipotence and the reality of your impotence? Feeling blue? It’s times like these that I need the conveniently packaged, reasonably-priced, pick-me-up, Übermutter, YOUR large-hadron collider-

Ted: (Not turning or raising head to look at M. Sprite raises hand. M. Sprite throws him a can of Übermutter brand soft-drink, which he absent-mindedly catches, opens and drinks).

M. Sprite: And do you know what really makes a bit of quiet “me-time” in the ole’ park, just sitting back and relaxing, and just not carin’ ‘bout nothin’? The medically-proven goodness of Energon snack-foods (interrupted by Ted and the same routine as above).

But, hmmm (looks quizzically at Ted. Inspects him through fingers made into the shape of a picture-frame. Begins to speak in affected French accent), something is lacking in this picture: some element, some characteristic, something that brings this image, you, the park, this moment, this tension, together. (Walks off stage, returns with a violinist busker, who he sets up near the bench. Ted looks up to stare first at the busker, then at M. Sprite).

(Returning to regular accent) Put it all on your tab my good man?

Ted: (Nods slowly).

M. Sprite: Pleasure doing business with you. (Exits, humming along with busker’s music).

Ted: (Calling after M. Sprite) HEY!- HEY!- I WANNA’ MAKE A COMPLAINT.

F. Sprite: (Enters dressed as a smiling, friendly cashier out of a fast-food chain advertisement). Yes, Mr. Griffith, we’re aware. Your anxiety centres have been showing a higher-than-usual level of activity for some time now. (Sitting down next to him, putting arm around his shoulder and patting him on the knee, as if consoling a child). But I’m afraid nothing can be done. According to our system you’re being subjected to increased activity in compensation for your increasing claims on our health-insurance plan.

Ted: My increased claims?

F. Sprite: Yes, it appears you have a genetic predisposition to suffer catastrophic kidney failure. The operation is, of course, one you are covered for. But the operation is an expensive one, and so comes at the cost of certain penalty rates.

Ted: Penalty rates? But I didn’t do anything. You said yourself the condition is genetic.

F. Sprite: But not entirely Mr. Griffith. Ted, if I may call you Ted. Certain of your behaviours are exacerbating it. I know our modern, “enlightened” age has made us all a little reckless, but according to my data here you drink five ninety-nine cups of Nescafé’s caffeinated products a day. And lately you’ve taken quite hard to Vieille Rue Absinthe, and that has to account for at least the next two ninety-nine of you’re kidneys.

Ted: You make me drink that stuff. Those ads came as part of the penalty-program. You have all my neural-charts, my hormonal patterns, you can make me buy anything you want.

F. Sprite: No Ted, we can only make you buy whatever you want. We haven’t forced you to do anything. Information Solutions Inc. is a socially-responsible company in an entirely free society. The Consumer Protection Act ensures that you have the right to make any decisions you want. According to the law, we can’t force you to do anything. So clearly we’re not forcing you to do anything. Your contract with Information Solutions Inc. only specifies that you receive certain, targeted information to inform your choice. As to how much information you receive, that is determined by an authorised, scientifically-proven formula that gets the balance right between customer-service and economic reality.

(Pause) Do you feel satisfied with the way your complaint has been handled?

Ted: Yeah, sure, whatever.

F. Sprite: We have a one-hundred percent customer service satisfaction rate. (Leaves card on the bench) If you have any more queries you know who to call. (Exits).

As F. Sprite exits, the Wide-Awakes re-animate. The-Student wheels One-Hand Wide-Awake towards Ted.

One-Hand: (Left index finger flickers to press button on the control panel that replaces his right-hand. After pressing, One-Hand animates.)  That card, it’s all that anyone ever gets from making a complaint to Information Solutions Inc.

Ted: (Nodding, not looking at either of the Wide-Awakes) I know.

One-Hand: So why?

Ted: My girlfriend wanted me to. It was the least I could do, what with… how… how I’ve been lately.

One-Hand: There is another way. (Ceases to be animate and re-adopts the position he held at the start of the scene).

The-Student: (Throws a business card on the ground before Ted) That’s our next meeting, and that’s all we have to say to you. This is not an ad.

Ted: Nothing ever is.

The-Student: We’re not asking you to give us any of your credits. Not so much as one ninety-nine.

Ted: Then this is a two-step ad. First you sign me up to some fake grass-roots movement, like that Hillsong deal, then, when I’ve developed an emotional attachment to it, you use the link to make me swallow all kinds of garbage.

The-Student: This isn’t astroturf either.

Ted: (derisive laughter) Yeah? Prove it!

The-Student: See Mr. Wide-Awake here?

Ted: Who?

The-Student: My associate, Mr. One-Hand Wide-Awake, founder of the Wide-Awake Club, an organisation that, how does she put it, informs choice in a free society. You may think it is cynical of us to be exploiting a sick man to deliver our message, but I should tell you that this man is in fact in perfect health.

What is left of him, that is. Three years past he decided to undergo a radical neurological operation, in which his entire nervous system, brain and all, were amputated. He is left with reflexive movements in a single nerve-ending in his left index-finger. With this, and an artificial neuromatic system of his own design, he is able to control his body such that it performs the few dozen functions he chose of his own free will to be the constituent elements of his new life. By long practice beforehand, he had trained this single remaining nerve to react on reflex to certain situations he would encounter in his mission, and press the correct button to elicit the correct speech, command, or question.

Ted: His mission?

The-Student: One-Hand has achieved what no one for the last three hundred years has experienced at great cost. By removing almost all of the information-processing capacity of his organic body he has escaped the mental hold of Information Solutions Inc. But this has reduced him to the existence of a digital watch. So what few functions he has remaining he has dedicated to allowing others to follow him more cheaply, and more whole.

Do you believe me now?

Ted: (Stooping to pick up the card) If I’ll believe that I’ll believe anything.

The-Student: (Chuckles) Well, good day sir. I leave it up to you. (Wide-Awakes exit.)

End Scene 2

Scene 3: Love in a Time of Pharmacopeia

Ted and Norah are on the bed of Norah’s apartment. As scene opens Ted jumps away from Norah, the same as in Scene 1.

Norah: Again?

Ted: Again.

Norah: (Taking out a book and beginning to read). Well, whatever.

Ted: I made a complaint to Information Solutions Inc.

Norah: (Snorts derisively) And what happened?

Ted: Well, nothing. But I found something else that might help.

Norah: Good for you (does not pause in reading.)

Ted: (Pauses as if trying to think of something to say) Hey, what are you reading? Actually, better still don’t answer, let’s trade books. I left my copy of War and Peace around here somewhere when I was over last week.

Norah: Trade books? Why?

Ted: Maybe Information Solutions got something wrong about us. Maybe we need to try something different to shake us up. If we switch books it’ll be something totally new and unplanned for both of us. We might learn something about- or it might (struggling for words).

Norah: Might what Ted? You’re just drunk. Anyway, you can’t read my book; it’s one of those Choose Your Own Adventure Books.

Ted: Like those old things kids used to learn to read off of.

Norah: No, these are different, they’re for adults. The book’s totally blank, see: no cover, no writing. Instead you just take a psychotropic drug that makes you hallucinate the text of a novel exactly suited to stimulating your emotional needs. Whenever you read, the novel’s perfectly tailored to your mental patterns, because in reality it’s just a filtered projection of them being reprocessed as a real story. It’s more perfect than an infinite number of writers at an infinite number of typewriters could achieve if they spent all eternity writing for you alone. So obviously you can’t read my book because you haven’t taken the pharmacopeia.

Ted: So what did you take?

Norah: I’ve got a lot of stuff, but I’ll be honest with you Ted. I keep a dozen caps of erotic romance whenever I’m with you. It’s not your fault, I know you’re just always getting bad breaks, but I need something to while away the hours if you can’t provide. (Returns to reading).

Ted: (Stunned) Hrgh. (Sits on edge of bed and pulls out a bottle of absinthe hidden under it. Drinks. Looks around and sees Norah engrossed in book. Sneaks into her purse and filches a pill. Norah does not notice. Ted takes pill, and washes it down with absinthe. Stage goes black. When light resumes, Norah is gone, and the figure of Gandhi is sitting before Ted.)

Gandhi: We know you have a card from the Wide-Awake club. Give it to me.

Ted: No.

Gandhi: You don’t know what you’re doing do you? You certainly don’t know what they’re doing. One-Hand Wide-Awake wants to fight the system. Sounds high-spirited, doesn’t it? But do you know what would happen if Information Solutions Inc. were torn down, and everything we’ve built around it collapsed.

Death. Death is what would happen. To everyone and everything, almost at once. Everything that keeps people alive, food, water, and above all medicine would be annihilated with us if those madmen had their way. I would call One-Hand a terrorist, but to become a martyr for genocide is of another order again. He is the apocalypse in a wheelchair.

Ted: (Slowly taking a drink from his bottle) But he’s my only hope.

Gandhi: Hope? Hope? You haven’t got any hope. Do you realise what you just took. That line of pharmacopeia causes a permanent, solitary hallucination when mixed with alcohol. You see this place? You’re never going to leave it.

And even if you could there was never any hope for you. Maybe somewhere, some when in this world there will be what you call hope, but it will be far from here and far from you. You never stood a chance of making anything of yourself; you are too weak to be free.

The only power you have and have ever had is to kill all hope for everyone forever, or to give me that card and stop those psychopaths from what they are planning.

Ted: They offered to help me.

Gandhi: They offered to trick you into helping them. Come as close as you ever will to thinking for yourself and give me that card.

Ted: (Haltingly drinks more absinthe). What-? What will happen to them if I give you the card?

Gandhi: Death. They will be put against a wall and shot.

Ted: Death? (Long pause) I don’t even know when the last person in this world died.

Gandhi: It happens more often than you think.

Ted: (Pauses. Takes out card and stares at it for a long time, before throwing it on the ground before the feet of Gandhi.)

End Scene 3



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