Vineke and Peter come to a Brief Couple Therapy’s session. She is dealing with jealousy issues, issues of trust. And it is making their life unbearable.
Vineke is Peter’s second wife – he left the first one because of Vineke, so deep inside she feels he will do it again. And Vineke is right: Peter is a cheater. Which he hides, because he does not want to lose her, or so he says.
Her goal is to find out whether Peter is cheating, as she suspects – Vineke has no idea what she is going to do with that knowledge. Peter’s goal is to calm her down so they can continue as they are. He comes from fear – fear of death, of losing out; in fact he is emotionally unavailable.
Vineke comes from fear too – fear of abandonment, of not being enough to hold him. They both profess that they love each other. But do they really? Can one love from a position of fear?
As in many of our character studies at the beginning of the 42 Seconds of Happiness workshop, we start with a therapy session. Love is not a thing of the mind. Adjusting each other, which is what traditional therapy is about, is a thing of the mind – it is a mental process. So I am not looking at these therapy sessions as a solution mechanism. But as a platform of observation.
In this particular Writers Improv session, I give information separately to the characters/actors. I give Vineke the information that she is pathologically jealous and that she fears that the story will repeat itself. But I do not confirm her fears. I then tell Peter that he is indeed cheating.
At the therapy session Peter reacts to accusations like an innocent man: he gets angry, even outraged that he is being accused of cheating. This makes Vineke step back, even feel guilty for accusing him.
I add a second therapist and ask them to flash forward in time. We are now in a second therapy session, a few weeks later. I tell Vineke that she has found a suspicious but not explicit text message. I choose the second therapist so that he has a different energy than the first one – the new guy is inexperienced, makes them angry, makes them get out of themselves. So Vineke becomes more aggressive. She comes out with her knowledge, and Peter is caught in a trap by way of his reaction. He does not give in yet, he does not confirm, but it is clear to him that his life as he knows it is in danger.
The deeper level we want to get to: Vineke’s worst fear is finally confirmed. Did she provoke it by fearing it so much? And if yes, why? And will she now rest, as she has nothing to fear anymore? (This is similar to the deeper level in Alis’ story where she welcomes terminal illness as a way out from an unhappy life she does not have the courage to leave.)
Other people enter the story world: Daphne, Peter’s girlfriend. Judy, the first wife. I want Vineke to confront Daphne, but I decide to have her meet Judy before she goes to find Daphne. I feel that the character/actress needs this emotional knowledge, needs to go through that experience before she crosses the border of another person’s life. Were I writing it on page, I would have written that scene, even if I did not intend to keep it in the script.
However, before anything happens between the women, I want Peter to meet Daphne. I want to see what will happen between them, what is between them. I ask Peter how he feels. He says “in panic”. I could do the same with Daphne, but at this point she has too little emotional information about herself – so I tell her that she is in love and that she is vulnerable. A meeting between a man in panic and a vulnerable woman? How would you think it goes?
The emotions the characters have at this point are important for how the story unfolds. Had I brought them to a different emotional state, if Peter were sad and Daphne compassionate, the outcome would have been different. On page as in life. But we are not in the promised land, and these are no wholehearted human beings at this point of the story.
What comes next is probably the cruelest moment we have experienced so far. When Peter says: Nobody asked you to love me, Daphne stops breathing. We all do. Peter tells her frankly that he is not going to lose his comfort because of her, and when she will not back off, he deliberately hurts her where it hurts most. Daphne retreats in pain.
There is one moment, which I am not sure I have managed to capture narratively in the editing. And that is a new wound: the wound of a lie.
Peter had told Vineke that Daphne is a schoolmate from 6th grade. When Vineke revels in her victory over Daphne, Daphne drops a bomb: no, she does not know Peter since 6th grade. The cycle of emotional violence in the name of love continues. But does the lie matter? It does to Vineke. It is at this moment that she realizes she will never really have Peter.
The episode ends with Peter’s direct-to-camera confession. Other than in real life the character/actor has experienced the interaction between “his” women, and I want to know whether he feels proud, cocky, even happy for being wanted that much by so many different women. Peter is a surprise – and that is for me the magic of Writers Improv, an endless source of emotional knowledge… Peter is neither proud nor cocky nor happy. His defenses have fallen. It is as if he now realizes that none of this is about love, that none of this is about him, really. And he talks about happiness – how he aches for it and how he thinks that that is why he does what he does. Then he talks about his kid. “If it weren’t for that, I would have walked out a long time ago,” he says. But perhaps, he adds, sacrificing a little happiness for him, is worth it. We end on that sad note.
To be continued…
– Christina Kallas