If I Were a Playwright

The audience would first see a woman on stage. She’s wearing pyjamas, walking across to the queen bed in which she is the only inhabitant. After sitting herself up under the covers, she scrolls through her phone. She settles on something and reads. Finally, she looks up at no-one in particular and asks a seemingly rhetorical question.

“Oh my God, what have you done?”

The stage goes black. Once our actress has disappeared off the stage, the back wall of the stage will be illuminated with GIFs from Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The remainder of the narrative would consist of a Copenhagen-style loop. A range of stories that are all potentially true, though just as likely to be false, would play out regarding the man who enters the stage as the lights slowly raise. The first of these tales begins as the bird’s face continuously peers out over our protagonist for close to a minute while the man puts down his luggage and opens mail on the dining table. His wife walks in, phone in hand. They look at each other for a moment before she quietly breaks the silence.

“What happens now?”

The play will return to this place and this question every time a new prospective narrative of the couple’s life begins to evolve on the stage. It’s a reminder of the tragedy at the heart of the story – the way that one person’s words can cause so many people to ask this horrifying, almost existential question. For there are no winners in this story. There is no place for even the wryest of smiles from the audience, nor any potentially joyful endings.

The dramatis personae are threefold: the man is Nico Hines, who we soon come to know as the London Editor of Newsweek and The Daily Beast. We also meet his unnamed wife and child. All other people in the world of the narrative never appear on stage, but rather are only raised in conversation or are the authors of the occasional projected Tweet.

In the opening narrative, we learn that Hines has returned from the Rio Olympics, during which he wrote a controversial story that caused him to return home early. The couple talk in disbelief over the events of the previous week – of how the story was published, edited and then removed and replaced with an apology. They talk of the hate that was directed to him online. He talks of how he went to ground in Rio while she talks of not being able to separate herself from her phone, watching the hate seemingly increase by the minute. Everyone they’ve ever met has texted or left Facebook messages for them – sometimes supportive, just as often asking how he could have done what he did. They worry about their son. They appear lost.

“What happens now?”

She explodes at him. It’s in this moment that she reveals to the audience what she calls “The moment you took the ground from beneath my feet without letting the Earth then swallow me.” Every sentence is a spitting rebuke, spewing forth so fast that it feels like she can’t bear to hold any of the words on her tongue. The headline: “I Got Three Grindr Dates in an Hour in the Olympic Village.” The premise, as read from her phone: “I expect you’ve heard the legend of the athletes’ village; tales abound that the Olympic Games is a hotbed of partying athletes, hookups, and sex, sex, sex….Can an Average Joe join the bacchanalia?” The identifying information included: “You named their country, their height, their weight, the position they finished in!” The result: “You outed them.”

She quietens only when their child enters the room. He’s so young that he cannot understand anything other than the undeniable anger of his mother towards his father. It surprises and scares him. His mother whispers scornfully. “How old will he be before you explain to him what they do to gay men in some of the countries you named? Or will he Google it, just like he’ll Google his Dad?”

His family leaves him alone.

He speaks aloud.

“What happens now?”

He leaves the stage as the lights go down. Numerous headlines from websites are projected on the back wall. The BBC: “Daily Beast ‘sorry for outing gay athletes”. The Washington Post: “Trash, unethical and dangerous’: Daily Beast lambasted for Olympic dating article”. The Los Angeles Times: “Bad form at the Olympics in Daily Beast’s Grindr-baiting story”. Queerty: “Everyone’s Pissed At This Straight Journalist Who Used Grindr To Out Gay Athletes.” Mic: “Seriously, F*ck That ‘Daily Beast’ Gay-Baiting, Life-Threatening Olympics Piece.”

He re-enters from the other side of the stage. Alone. Drowning in regret. He hasn’t left the house. It’s shame. Or fear. He turns the phone on and it rings. He doesn’t answer it. It rings again. This process repeats itself ad nauseam until he turns it off. He glances at a bottle on the table and pauses. He pours a glass, turns the phone back on and listens to the sound of it ringing intermittently, along with text message and email alerts. He ignores them all and drinks some more.

His child runs in brandishing a “Present for Daddy!” His wife follows, exhausted. He opens the shopping bag the kid’s handed him. It’s a new phone. He turns to his wife. “You’re home way too earl-” “Until this precise moment, you wouldn’t answer my calls. I was sitting there and didn’t even know if today was the day when you decided to top yourself.” He tries to console her. Tells her that Internet shaming always slows down and then disappears. She is not comforted.

“What happens now?”

The couple sit together warmly on the couch. “It’s not about what happens to us,” he says, “it’s about what happens to them. Whatever happens to me might mean nothing in comparison.” She finds herself agreeing, they discuss with horror what they have researched about the treatment of gay men in various countries. They talk with reverence about Amini Fonua, the Tongan Olympic swimmer and his Tweetstorm. They can quote it, they’ve read it so often.

He is desperate to apologise and presents a plan to his wife – he’ll travel to meet with each of the men he’s effected to apologise and learn about the impact that the story had on them. “What if we’re worried for nothing and they’re all absolutely fine?!?” His wife looks at him and smiles. She knows he wants to make amends and yet making amends is impossible. “But that’s still about how you feel, Nico. The world knows what you look like now. No-one’s meeting with you.”

Her final comment then escapes her lips almost before she realises. “And it’s not just about them, either. How will you apologise to the gay kids who read your article, huh?”

“What happens now?”

The bird reappears on the back wall. For all the audience can tell, life in the Hines family appears calm. Nico types away as his family come home from their day. He’s living life as a hermit, but has a new life as a journalist with a pseudonym.

Once the kid’s off to his room, The back wall glows with @nicohines’ Twitter feed – a feed that has not changed since the events of Rio.

screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-7-45-48-pm

He suddenly turns to his wife. “I can’t live like this.”

She walks over and holds him.

“I know. You may be here. But my husband is forever at ‘Rio for the Olympics’.”

The curtain falls.

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