‘Serengeti’. A nervous breakdown – with multimedia

JERRY is in his mid-thirties. He wears a grey suit that doesn’t fit. He stands in the middle of a big empty space, holding a briefcase, so light in his hand it must be nearly empty. He talks like a man who never exhales. A couple of oddly tilted projection screens stand behind him.
I’m driving.
(A PROJECTED VIDEO CLIP of a madly speeding road. The SOUND of clinking glasses.)
The Sat-Nav says that a constant speed of 87 mph will ensure I make my appointment at exactly three o’clock. With ice and snow on the ground, this is an insane speed, but I feel I can control it because I’ve had a few drinks, and a tranquilizer.
Helen ironed my shirt.
(VIDEO CLIP of nervous woman ironing shirt.)
She may have used too much starch because the smell is filling up the car. How do prospective employers feel about starch these days? Will it make me look old? Smell old? On the phone, Mr. Dempsey sounded young. He sounded like he was listening to my voice, trying to detect my age. Of course, if he read the CV he already knows I’m thirty-seven, which is old for most things, including work.
(BACK PROJECTION of a coffin on top of a rubbish tip)
I feel positive and calm. Some of this is down to the tranquilizer, but some of it is because of The Course. The Course was invaluable. I strongly recommend it. When Helen handed me the voucher I thought it was a peculiar gift and I wondered was she trying to tell me something, but then, after two or three sessions, it made a lot of sense. It got me to a safe place.
(BACK PROJECTION of a long ladder disappearing into the heavens.)
There is also a smell of bleach from this shirt. The starch is not that big a problem, but the bleach might be an issue. If you put bleach in your shirts, it implies you do not have the price of a new shirt, and we do not have the price of a new shirt.
(VIDEO CLIP of a nervous woman polishing shoes)
Helen polished my shoes last night. The heels are worn and when I leave his office, he will see that. I may loosen the belt a little, so the cuffs hang low, but that might make me look slovenly.
(VIDEO CLIP of silent era man doing pratfall on banana skin.)
The Sat-Nav puts the speed at 92 mph and this is not a good road. A man clearing snow from the front of his cottage makes that patting gesture with the palm of his hand, indicating that I should slow down.
Somebody put a plastic Santa Claus at the side of the road with a bunch of flowers next to it. It looks like it is supposed to be marking the site of an accident, maybe a fatality, but the idea of a Santa Claus as a headstone? That’s strange.
(The SOUND of ‘Jingle Bells’ in the background.)
Suddenly, there are three cars in front, and not one of them is going faster than 50 mph. I brake hard. I know there’s a school a couple of miles from here, so they might be mothers on their way to pick up children. After the next corner, I’ll take them. This car is twelve years old, but it still has plenty of pep. Some engines loosen up with age; they find their groove.
(BACK PROJECTION of an incredible engine. Pull back to reveal it’s under the hood of a futuristic space ship.)
I am fifteen feet from the tail of the car ahead. A hand wags a finger into the rear-view mirror; I wag a finger back. The road in front is clear. Drop two gears. Accelerate. Overtake. One. Two. Three.
(The SOUND of an engine roaring morphs into the scream of a wild animal)
That wasn’t so difficult, and yet they are all honking their horns behind me. The Sat-Nav device on the dashboard says I will be three minutes late unless speed is increased to 95 mph, which is frankly ludicrous. If I were to hit a wall, what would remain? This car is made out of nothing. It’s mostly air with a bubble of plastic moulded around it.
(VIDEO CLIP of a stern man in shirtsleeves, talking confidently, volume turned down.)
My father always said a real man starts with a Ford and ends with a Mercedes, but he never got beyond the Ford. Towards the end of his life, he pretended he didn’t really want a Mercedes. I hate Fords. How can your father turn you against a car?
(The man in the video clip orates like Mussolini.)
My father came home late most nights and listened to Jazz in the kitchen. Loud. He woke everybody with the Haitian Fight Song.
(The SOUND of jazz in the background.)
He didn’t care for the music, but he got high on the menace. I hate jazz. If I saw a guy with a double bass crossing the road right now, I would knock him down. I would, I would knock him down and then I would reverse back over him. Then I would go another five hundred yards and maybe I would see a man with a saxophone. I would knock him down too. I would spin the wheels and leave tyre marks on his chest.
(A SERIES OF BACK PROJECTIONS: musical instruments crushed on a highway)
This is the first job interview I have had in six months.
I spilled some tomato juice on my pants. I dabbed it off with a wet towel and then I dried it with a hair dryer. That’s why I got delayed. I poured the tomato juice into the cocktail shaker and it slipped. I thought the heater in the car might dry it out, but it still looks bad. I might try to hide it with my briefcase when I enter Mr. Dempsey’s office, but it’s difficult to cover your legs when you’re walking.
(VIDEO CLIP of silent era man doing pratfall on banana skin.)
My eyes are watering, I think it’s the bleach, and my neck is sore from rubbing against this starched collar. You really need to rinse a shirt two or three times to get the bleach out. The old me would have been furious with Helen…
(BACK PROJECTION of a nervous woman standing awkwardly in the middle of a room, her head slightly bowed.)
…but the new me is different. I manage things much better. I control things. I am much more in control. I am in a safe place. All that talk about killing jazz musicians, I wasn’t serious.
Mr. Montgomery, The Course organizer, said that I was a Level-Nine personality, and Level-Nine personalities have to be especially vigilant. It’s funny, if you asked me in the beginning what level I was, I might have guessed a Four or a Five, at the outside a Six. I asked Mr. Montgomery why there were no Tens on The Course; he just told me that he wouldn’t deal with Tens. Tens are untreatable. And I’m already a Nine. I have to be vigilant.
(A SERIES OF BACK PROJECTIONS depicting items associated with fishing: A reel, a rod, bait, dead fish in a basket.)
My father took me fishing during the summer holidays, fly-fishing, which has a lot of technique. Fishing is hateful. It’s just waiting around for a dumb creature to make a mistake. Sometimes he brought along a small radio and we would have to listen to jazz. Those afternoons lasted forever.
(The SOUND of a ticking clock, morphs into the SOUND of a wheezing animal. A BACK PROJECTION of a ladder disappearing into the clouds.)
It will be seven minutes past three before I arrive, even if I do 102 mph nonstop, all the way.
I have to get to a safe place and I have to stay there. I should go back and do part two of The Course. Part one ended with all this talk about taking the lid off, but now I have the lid off and I don’t know what to do with it. Should I put it back on at some point?
(SLOW ZOOM ON BACK PROJECTION of Chernobyl reactor lid, balanced precariously.)
Mr. Dempsey already asked me some questions over the phone. “What is your greatest character flaw?”I said something about a constant quest for perfection, but I wanted to say it was my desire to get under the bedroom quilt on the hottest day of the year with the windows closed and the heater on, so I might know what hell is like.
(Jerry flings aside his briefcase and takes off his jacket. He takes off his tie. He opens his shirt.)
Helen’s father came around to the house last night and sat there as if he owned the place. We should never have allowed him help us with the deposit. He sat back in the chair and tilted it up on its two hind legs, digging the sharp wood into the linoleum. It was an act of pure disrespect. When Helen was pregnant, he was so nice to me but then, after everything went wrong, he could barely look in my direction, as if it was my fault.
(VIDEO CLIP: A golf ball rolls slowly across a green and disappears into the hole. Close-on the hole and the SOUND of a dying animal)
I hate his clothes. Every shirt, sweater, and tie he wears has a little golfer on it. People listen to him because he has money. They act as if his jokes are funny, but all his jokes are about golf. If he is not talking about golf, he’s talking about red meat; some steak he had somewhere.
I have two minutes in credit left on my phone. After I speak for two minutes, I disappear from the world.
(VIDEO CLIP of a madly speeding road.)
I hear the sound of rubber screeching on the road. Every corner is a near impossibility. The Sat-Nav tells me that if I can maintain a speed of 104 mph, I will arrive at six minutes past three. That does not allow any time to park the car. I have to park at 104 mph.
Mr. Dempsey probably plays golf; he might even know Helen’s father. It’s strange, I’ve heard so many golfing jokes and now, when it might be to my advantage to remember one, my mind is blank. Maybe I should talk about red meat.
“Boy oh boy, what a wonderful steak I had last night. Choice sirloin, cooked to perfection.”We could discuss mustards and condiments. I tell him I never wear a bib when I’m eating rare steak, I just like to feel that fresh blood running down my chin onto my shirt; it gives me a primal feel.
(Jerry retrieves his briefcase. He opens it and takes out a bottle of tomato juice. Or blood. He pours it over his head and it runs down his face. It soaks his shirt and pants)
We are hunters, Dempsey and me. We are two lions at the end of a long day. It isn’t a desk between us, but a zebra, its legs stiffened. In deference to his seniority, I offer him the heart, still warm. We bury our noses in the carcass of the animal, and while we are in there we discuss that difficult sand trap on the fifth hole, and the water hazard on the eleventh.
(VIDEO CLIP: The golf ball drops into the hole and a splash of blood comes out)
We pull out. Steam from the innards rises up around us. He lifts a giant paw and waves away the other job applicants.
(VIDEO CLIP of a madly speeding road.)
Coming over the brow of the hill, I see the town stretched out below. There is dense traffic ahead; cars parked on both sides of the road, mothers waiting for children to leave school. They jump around and wave. I wave back.
A flash of blue behind me and a blip of light becomes a steady rhythm. This is not good. I will slow down, but not too suddenly. I do not want it to look as if I am panicking because I am not panicking.
(All the images start FLASHING at random on the screens)
I must contain and then release.
Contain and then release.
Contain and then release.
(Wounded animal SOUNDS)
I will speak to the police officer in a polite but authoritative tone. If he tells me to get out of the car I will get out, and if he puts me in the back of his patrol car (which I notice in my mirror is a Ford) I will use my last two cellular minutes to make a phone call to Helen. I will not complain about the bleach or the starch and I will tell her not to be alarmed because everything is fine. Everything is contained. Everything is under control.
I am in a safe place.
(Jerry fades into the darkness and only ONE IMAGE REMAINS: A ladder disappearing into the heavens.)


(This play is so far unproduced, contact HeadStuff or Barry McKinley (below) if interested.)