© Chris Port, Central School of Speech and Drama, 1999
WARNING. CONTAINS MATERIAL THAT SOME MAY FIND OFFENSIVE.
Since 1994 I had been brooding over the idea of writing a play which could discuss the current, unclear and sometimes contradictory expectations men and women seem to have of each other and the tragicomic consequences which can ensue. This foetal idea (although sometimes the words faecal or fatal seemed more appropriate) had a dubious parentage. Part of its conception undoubtedly lay in my sense of frustration and failure over personal relationships. These feelings found ready-made partners in morose conversations with (male) friends over their similar experiences. But the strongest contender for this unknown progenitor was a growing unease that the whole agenda of relationships seemed to be dominated by a smug, post-feminist consensus. This consensus seemed to smother all male dissent. Television, cinema, newspapers and magazines, all seemed to toe the party line of political correctness. First and foremost, I wanted to write a play that I would like to watch, a play that would disturb me and make me think (it is a dangerous conceit but I generally find that I can only write something interesting for other people if I am interested in it first).
The title GSOH (Good Sense Of Humour) seemed to suggest itself almost immediately (the ubiquitous acronym which appears in so many personal advertisements). As well as being readily identifiable with these advertised symptoms of loneliness, it also carried ironic connotations of personal standards and differences (one person’s idea of a good sense of humour may not be the same as another’s).
The basic plot also suggested itself fairly quickly as a series of Hegelian dialectics and oppositions: two men debate and differ over what they want from a woman and what they think a woman wants from them (one man clings to romantic ideals while the other clings to pragmatism and convenience); two women debate and differ likewise over men; the unromantic man and woman become partners with consummate ease while the idealistic man and woman struggle through a series of disastrous relationships until bitterness and cynicism ruin any chance of their coming together.
This playscript should be read in conjunction with
#139. Evaluation of GSOH (Good Sense Of Humour).
#139. Evaluation of GSOH (Good Sense Of Humour).
(CHRISTOPHER is in PETER's flat. He has just been throwing a mock tantrum about women in response to PETER's amused goading. During the mock offensive larking, CHRISTOPHER accidentally knocked over and smashed a vase, given to PETER by his girlfriend, 'S'. The vase was a sentimental gift containing a single red rose. CHRISTOPHER is full of remorse and offers to clean up the mess...)
PETER: ...(He looks at the mess). I’ll tell her the cat did it.
CHRISTOPHER: You haven’t got a cat.
PETER: Can you prove that?
CHRISTOPHER: I’ve never seen it.
PETER: (Sitting in upstage chair). So what you haven’t seen doesn’t exist? She may be out most of the time.
CHRISTOPHER: I think she’ll know you're lying.
PETER: It doesn’t really matter. Females expect men to lie.
(He picks up the packet of cigarettes from the table).
They only get disturbed if you tell them the truth.
(He pulls up two cigarettes from the rest and offers the packet to CHRISTOPHER).
It disturbs their smug little theories on male behaviour.
(CHRISTOPHER takes one of the cigarettes).
If we told the truth, we’d put women’s magazines out of business.
(CHRISTOPHER looks quiet).
What are you thinking?
CHRISTOPHER: (Serious). I don’t know. (Toying with cigarette). I feel… I don’t know…
PETER: What? (He takes the lighter and offers to light CHRISTOPHER’s cigarette).
CHRISTOPHER: (Shaking his head at the offer of a light). The way we were behaving…
PETER: (Lighting his own cigarette). Yes?
CHRISTOPHER: Don’t you feel… guilty?
PETER: (Genuinely puzzled). Guilty?… (Nodding towards cigarette). Are you going to smoke that now, Christopher?
CHRISTOPHER: In a bit. The things we were saying…
PETER: (Laughing and blowing smoke out). The things you were saying. It’s not as though there was anyone else here.
CHRISTOPHER: Does that matter?
PETER: Well of course it matters. Would you say those things in front of a woman?
CHRISTOPHER: No. Of course not.
PETER: (Including audience). Well then. Where’s the harm? You indulge in your somewhat amusing catharsis - and nobody gets hurt. The only casualties are: one torn magazine – which I require you to replace, Christopher; one damaged vase – which I didn’t particularly care for much, anyway; and one scapegoated cat - who may or may not exist.
CHRISTOPHER: (Laughing). God. Imagine if someone had heard us.
PETER: Then I agree – they’d probably think there was something wrong with you.
CHRISTOPHER: (Serious). Do you think there is?
PETER: Christopher. You are one of the most genuine people I know. I have come to rely upon you as a worthwhile person.
CHRISTOPHER: Do you mean a friend?
PETER: (Mock evasively). Some people may choose to use that term, yes. (Drawing on cigarette and exhaling). Christopher? Are you going to smoke that cigarette? I have no wish to die of lung cancer on my own. The only reassuring thing about death is at least it happens to other people. Imagine how depressing it would be if it was only you that died… Have you drunk all my beers by the way?
CHRISTOPHER: (Still toying with cigarette). They’re down by your chair.
PETER: (Picking up and popping open a can. Mock Oscar Wilde). I am a man not so much driven to drink as chauffeured.
CHRISTOPHER: Very clever. How’s it going with S?
PETER: That information is on a ‘need to know’ basis…
CHRISTOPHER: (Finishing sentence)… and I don’t need to know.
PETER: I find her adequate for my sexual requirements.
CHRISTOPHER: And is that all you want?
PETER: I believe that, in this day and age, that is all that it is reasonable to expect. It is a mistake to have unreasonable expectations of each other. You will always be disappointed whereas I never am. I accept relationships with females for what they are – an alliance of convenience. Nothing more.
CHRISTOPHER: (Mock serious). That’s a very utilitarian philosophy of life.
PETER: (Mock serious). That is why I find it so useful. Do you have a better philosophy, Christopher?
(CHRISTOPHER stands up and starts to circle the room, in an anti-clockwise direction, watched occasionally by PETER with mild amusement. He ends up at the sofa).
CHRISTOPHER: What’s wrong with love?
PETER: Define it.
CHRISTOPHER: The opposite of hate.
PETER: You have only defined what it is not, not what it is.
CHRISTOPHER: Alright. Let’s start with the object then.
PETER: Which is?
CHRISTOPHER: A good woman.
PETER: Define ‘a good woman’.
CHRISTOPHER: (Pause. Laughs). Good tits.
PETER: (Laughs). Define ‘good tits’.
CHRISTOPHER: Katie Harding in the sixth form.
PETER: (Laughs). Allowed on the grounds I have no wish to discuss that unsubstantiated allegation. What else?
CHRISTOPHER: (Reclining on sofa, legs apart). A tight c**t?
PETER: I don’t believe that such a thing exists these days. Define ‘tight c**t’.
CHRISTOPHER: (Indicating he would like a can of lager). You when it’s your round.
PETER: (Reaches under table and places a can of lager on the table). He said, drinking my beer. What else?
CHRISTOPHER: (Laughs and then pauses. Genuine serious). Kindness.
PETER: (Contemptuously). Kindness?
CHRISTOPHER: (Suddenly angry). What’s wrong with kindness? Why is it every time I show kindness to a girl she spits it right back in my face?
PETER: She probably thinks you’re patronising her.
CHRISTOPHER: (Moving away from the sofa). I’m sick of it! Why are women so unpleasant? They’re such spiteful, hypocritical cowards. They can say or do whatever they want. But the moment you turn on them, they turn into Daddy’s little girl. They run away and burst into tears. And everyone thinks you’re the one in the wrong. So you have to keep your mouth shut, for fear of hurting their feelings. (Pause). Here’s the problem. How can I love someone if I don’t respect them? And how can I respect someone if they won’t take responsibility for their actions? (He slumps on the sofa and lies on his back, head stage left).
(The stage lighting mixes to a red hellish wash. Enter LUCIFER onstage from the audience, upstage right. He finds the coke bottle centre stage and addresses the audience directly. He walks in an anti-clockwise circle, going behind the sofa, to end up perched on the stage right sofa arm).
LUCIFER: Love. It’s a wasp in a bottle of coke. Try it on a summer’s day when you get bored. You drink most of a bottle of coke and then you watch. And, sooner or later, along comes a wasp. He smells the sugar. He goes in through the neck of the bottle. That bit’s easy. But then he gets confused. Because wasps aren’t too smart, you see. They rely on the direction of the sun and the shape of the glass makes it all wrong. And so he can’t get out. He just can’t work it out. And you get angry with him for being stupid.
(LUCIFER sits down on the sofa arm, stage right).
And he gets angrier and angrier, and tireder and tireder, until eventually he lands in the coke. And the coke’s sticky. It sticks to his wings. Makes him heavy so he can’t fly. And so he sticks and he drowns. He dies. And all for the love of sugar. Bzz. Bzz Shh. Love. It's a wasp in a bottle of coke.
(The stage lighting mixes back to ‘naturalistic’. LUCIFER remains on-stage, perched on the edge of the sofa arm stage right. He is unseen by CHRISTOPHER, although PETER may occasionally hint an awareness of his presence).
PETER: (Clapping ironically. Turns his chair round to face stage stage left). Let’s look at this problem from the other side. What do you think women actually want?
CHRISTOPHER: (Lying on sofa, quietly, thinking out loud). I don’t know. Independence? They say they want independence. But then they talk about needing someone and being needed by them. Then romance. They say they want romance. But then all they talk about are material things: like how successful he is, how he buys them flowers or takes them to see a weepy film. They want romance without being romantic themselves. And that’s hypocrisy.
PETER: (Standing up. Directly to audience. He walks in an anti-clockwise circle to end up perched on the left sofa arm). I agree with you, Christopher, but it’s not exactly news, is it? Women want illusion. The illusion of independence. The illusion of romance. The illusion of combining the two. And the reality of money. Of nice things. Of sexual intercourse. And that’s where we fit. It's like I said earlier. It’s just an alliance. An alliance of convenience. (Sitting on sofa arm stage left). Don’t look for anything deeper or you’ll drown.
CHRISTOPHER: (Sitting up in the middle of the sofa, between PETER and LUCIFER). I won’t accept that you’re right. I think you’re right about the illusion. But I think there’s something real underneath it. A good woman you can trust.
PETER: Alright. (Picks up newspaper from floor). Let’s put it to the test.
PETER: A test. Your philosophy against mine.
CHRISTOPHER: How can you test it?
PETER: A simple bet. You might find this amusing. I was looking at the personal ads before you came round. You know the sort of thing... (Reads various snippets from the newspaper): ‘single mum of two’, ‘been hurt before’, ‘must like children’, ‘must have GSOH’…
CHRISTOPHER: (Starting). What?
PETER: Must have GSOH. Good sense of humour. (Smiles. To audience). You know it’s funny. Every woman seems to mention it in her ad. If it’s that important to them, I wonder why they don’t get one for themselves?
CHRISTOPHER: You mentioned a bet?
PETER: Yes. We’ll both put in our own personal ads. You can talk about love. I’ll talk about convenience. We’ll set ourselves a time limit. One month from today. For me to win, I have to obtain sexual intercourse from four women. For you to win, you only have to find one woman. One woman you can trust.
CHRISTOPHER: How will I know if I can trust her?
PETER: Because I’ll try to f**k her for you. If she lets me, then you know you can’t trust her. That’s friendship for you.
CHRISTOPHER: (Horrified laugh). That’s disgusting. (Pause). You don’t think much of women, do you?
PETER: On the contrary. I think a great deal of them. I just don’t overestimate their morals, that’s all.
CHRISTOPHER: What about S?
PETER: What about her? I don’t think she’ll put an advertisement in. Unless you know something I don’t?
CHRISTOPHER: Won’t you be being unfaithful to her?
PETER: Only if I get found out. I’m very careful with things like that. I try to avoid hurting people's feelings unless it's necessary. It’s called respect.
CHRISTOPHER: What’s the stake?
PETER: (Quietly). Only your soul. (Smiles at LUCIFER). Tell you what, if you win, I'll throw in a romantic dinner for you and your soul mate.
CHRISTOPHER: And if you win?
PETER: Then you accept that I’m right. That’s all.
CHRISTOPHER: (Smiling). I think I’ll smoke this cigarette now.
(He puts the cigarette in his mouth. The lights mix to a red hellish wash. LUCIFER moves downstage from where he has been perched on the sofa arm. He addresses the audience directly).
LUCIFER: Put a wrap on that beaten heart;
your swollen tiny fist
just pounds against her smug shut laugh;
all women fight like this.
“I don't feel the same way”
she calmly shrugs,
as if she ever loved;
like a smiling knife, she twists your words,
with a surgeon’s skill, she cuts.
So; pull a smile with a tightening thread
and shut that gaping vein;
let’s turn that razor wit to get
her precise, unblinking pain.
And when that slash of lipstick cries
“Why do you do this to me?”,
just show it that beaten heart and sigh
“I died - and this isn’t me”.
(He removes his Devil mask to reveal that he is crying. The lights fade to black).
(Bring up house lights. As the audience leave, play BEYOND LOVE from the album MIND BOMB by THE THE, copyright by Sony Music Entertainment, 1989).