Genre: Drama. Character Study. #MeToo Narrative. Stage Play.
Outline: Based on a first draft screenplay, I converted the story of ‘Exile in Tomis’ into a stage play. Predominantly told through the perspective of Tony, this story is a study in the lives of those affected by sexual impropriety and sexual harassment. With our protagonist very much at fault, this is about what happens when someone becomes the villain of their own life. Tony is haunted by the metaphorical ghosts of his past, and is very much under the impression that self-imposed exile is the correct recompense for his crimes. A central theme of toxic masculinity allows Tony to see himself as a martyr, and the notion of forgiveness is explored in the ways that Tony fails to recognise his need to apologise and make amends as well as remove himself from the profession that has facilitated his transgressions. When we finally meet one of his victims in the second act, it becomes clear that as with Tony’s view of his own life, the narrative has failed to truly acknowledge and empathise with his victims. It is at this point that the audience is encouraged to make their own judgements of the situation; most likely in revolting against Tony as a protagonist. ‘Exile in Tomis’ takes thematic and tonal influences from the likes of The Woodsman (2004), About Schmidt (2002) and Flight (2012). There is also a significant influence from the central themes of A Clockwork Orange.
Central Characters: Tony is a disgraced super producer with a long and successful history in the music business. Following a string of allegations, he has hidden himself away, losing his family, his fortune and most of his belongings in the process. He now inhabits a sparsely decorated mini mansion, where he spends most of his time drinking and listening to old records. Tony longs to be famous once more, and when he saves a child from an accident, he sees this as his window of opportunity. Despite all of this time to become humble and see the error of his ways, Tony still has a strong sense of injustice, entitlement, and anger bubbling under the surface.
Ben is Tony’s fly-by-night agent. He is the embodiment of who Tony would be had he remained successful. He is a misogynist, a bully and has very little time for anyone who isn’t making him money. Ben is the driving force behind Tony’s crusade for redemption.
Samantha is Tony’s troubled teenage daughter. The product of a broken home, she seeks some ‘refuge’ at her father’s home after extensive bickering with her mother. Samantha has very low self-esteem and has experimented with self-harm. She is sharp tongued, and takes pleasure is making others wince. Samantha desperately wants to see some value in her father, and her relationship with him, but is constantly struggling with the reality of who Tony really is. Samantha is the broken reflection of Tony. Except her damage is a consequence of men like her father, rather than Tony who damages himself in a perceived slight from woman.
Casey is Ben’s assistant and is the person tasked with getting Tony around and seeing to his needs during his press tour. Casey is well aware of Tony’s past, and has a lot of anxiety in working with him. She is clearly victimised by Ben, and has a growing desire to take control of her own life. She symbolises every young woman who finds herself on the journey up the career ladder, and all the battles and discomforts she must experience from men like Ben and Tony along the way.
Tone: Here are a small collection of ‘mood’ images and music for the film. These are designed to help evoke the tone and atmosphere as you read the story overview.
Story: Appearing on TV for the first time in years, a drawn and withdrawn Tony Rogers finds himself being awkwardly interviewed by two preppy morning TV hosts. The topic of discussion; his recent rescue of a young girl from a car accident.
Later that day, Ben turns up at Tony’s house; a mostly empty shell of a mini-mansion with only a few chairs and a record collection to populate it. Ben is ranting and raving about the need to get Tony as much airtime as possible. Tony overhears Ben describing him as a cancer to another agent, and the two have a somewhat heated discussion as Tony tries to make Ben feel guilty, and Ben dismisses the comments. Tony is drunk and Ben tells him to sober up, then leaves. Tony begins to address the spectre of a small girl, and pleads with her to leave him alone. Tony was fitted with an implant as part of an ‘alternate punishment’ initiative called The Tomis Project, that intends to help sex offenders manage their thoughts and reflect on past behaviours. This process often leads to vivid nightmares and visual manifestations. Tony begins to remember an old conversation with his psychiatrist as they discussed the notion of repentance. It is clear that Tony feels very sorry for himself. He is woken from this daydream by the sound of his phone ringing.
We transition into another of Tony’s longstanding nightmares as he is haunted by an inability to speak.
The next morning, Tony wakes and goes into the garden where his teenage daughter, Samantha is eating breakfast. The call from the night before is discussed as Samantha tried to self-harm and spent the night at her father’s house. Tony tries to speak with Samantha, but she is mostly dismissive of him. Tony goes indoors to get dressed, and Ben’s assistant Casey turns up. She has been told by Ben to let herself in, and she finds Samantha in the garden. After busting Casey chops, Samantha tells her that her dad is indoors. Upon entering the house, Casey inadvertently sees Tony half-naked, and there is an uncertainty about whether or not he intended to be seen. Embarrassed, Casey tries to leave but is stopped by Ben. She tries to explain what happened, but Ben is not interested. Ben asks Tony why Samantha is staying at his house now, and Tony explains what happened the night before. Without discussion, Ben tells Casey to stay at the house with Samantha while he takes Tony for his next interview. Uncomfortable but compliant, Casey is left behind.
We hear a radio interview between Tony and a trio of irreverent DJs. They are very supportive of Tony and jokingly allude to him being a sex symbol.
Back at Tony’s house, Casey tries to engage Samantha in friendly conversation. As they duel with words a little, Samantha warms to Casey and tells her about a time when her male cousin almost let her drown in their swimming pool while she was in a bid to impress him. She casually brushes the incident off, despite the obvious notion that he was quite clearly exploring her at the time. Ben and Tony return from the interview like two puffed up peacocks, gloating and laughing about how well it went. Casey informs them that she has had some pings on Tony’s social media channel (something she had set up at Ben’s behest) and a famously tough talk show host known as Moses Hayes has invited Tony onto his show. Petrified at what this means, Tony is initially reluctant as he knows that Moses will likely focus in on Tony’s past crimes and try to steer things away from the positive news of his recent acts. Ben mocks Tony and encourages him to think about the benefits that validation from Moses Hayes would bring. He sees this as a permanent solution to finally ‘overcoming’ the issues of Tony’s past and re-igniting his career.
Later that day Tony has a heart-to-heart with Samantha and she asks him if he has really changed. He tells her that he has, and she tells him that now may be a good time to embrace that better person.
Act 2 begins with Tony being approached in the green room of Moses’ show by the Executive Producer Gillian. She wishes to go through some pre-interview questions with him. Ben appears and berates Gillian about the fact that they intend to focus a portion of the show on Tony’s past. She leaves both men with the list of questions she intended to ask. Tony is called to stage. There is a short exchange between Ben, Tony and Casey, and Tony leaves the room; like a man to the gallows.
Tony meets Moses. He is introduced to the other guests on the show; Dr. Marcus Gamble, the man who invented the chip in Tony’s head, and Guinevere Clarke, a political activist known for lobbying against the Tomis Initiative. After brief “hello”s, the show goes on air.
There is a hot debate between Dr. Gamble and Guinevere, as it becomes clear she does not feel that this technology promotes repentance but rather a martyr culture amongst the accused. It is also a costly and sometimes ineffective form of rehabilitation. Dr. Gamble, meanwhile tries to negotiate an understanding that the accused are often at higher risk for prison-based attacks, etc.
Dr. Gamble tries to draw Tony into the debate, and Tony quickly makes known his dissatisfaction with his own experiences. He is questioned by both guests, and it is becoming apparent that neither of them consider him an ally in the debate. Moses seizes the opportunity to address Tony’s recent act of saving a young girl, and they surprise Tony by having her call into the studio. She thanks Tony and asks him if the man who caused their car accident was a “bad man”. Tony tries to sidestep the question; keen not to pass judgement when he himself is trying to seek absolution.
Dr. Gamble tries to turn the conversation to how the technology has helped Tony more willing think of others, but Tony turns on him and berates him for how the technology has ruined his life. Tony systematically gets into arguments with each guest and Moses; he becomes increasingly angry and self-righteous. Guinevere reminds Tony that he never once openly apologised or even acknowledged any of his crimes. She offers him the chance to do this now, live on air, as an example of how he has changed. Tony debates that his did offer an apology in the form of a statement at the time. The group begin to pick apart his argument, and he tries to back-peddle. Guinevere offers Tony a few home truths, with Moses trying to mediate tempers. Tony once again flares up and labels himself a “victim” to the kangaroo court of public opinion. The mood completely sours.
A woman’s voice rings out from the audience. Moses acknowledges the woman and informs us all that she is one of Tony’s victims; an ex-employee called Hannah Walsh. Moses says that we need to cut to a commercial break.
Tony walks to the stage exit where Ben is standing utterly gobsmacked. Ben pleads with him to walk away, but Tony thinks this will do more damage than good. The two argue and Ben storms off, refusing to be connected with what is destined to be the utter destruction of Tony’s life. Gillian approaches Tony and tells him that Moses has invited Hannah to join the panel in light of what just happened before they went to a commercial break. She tells Tony he has 15 seconds to decide if he is staying or if he wants to leave. Tony begins to see visions of the little girl again. Absently, he moves to his chair on stage and sits down just as the show goes back onto the air.
Moses addresses the audience to inform them that Hannah was in attendance as Guinevere’s guest, with the two being senior members of a woman’s support group. Tony is a little shellshocked and Hannah is more than a little nervous. Hannah holds the group to task and says that the debate thus far has been a disappointing display of blame culture and in-fighting; losing sight of those truly affected by sexual assault and harassment. Tony questions whether he is legally allowed to be this close to Hannah, and Dr. Gamble clarifies that under the initiative that Tony is currently part of, there are no physical limitations so long as Hannah is ok with it. She is.
Hannah is invited to talk about the support group that she helped to build, and she discusses the concerns that Dr. Gambles initiative may be a ‘soft’ option for some, to circumvent true justice. Tony agrees as says that he thought it would be a better option for him, but in hindsight he would have preferred a different sentencing. Hannah clarifies that this is the issue, as there shouldn’t be an “option”, that it defies the purposes of criminal justice. She says that there is too much focus on ostracising the abuser rather than helping the abused.
Tony says that he feels he has “paid” for his crime, but that there is no end in sight for him being under the initiative. Moses interjects and asks Tony if he thinks the victims have an expiry date on their trauma, and asks if Tony truly has objections to restorative justice. Dr. Gamble steps in to say that it is clear that the initiative does change people; ergo it works. Guinevere challenges this notion, stating that as the attacker it is Tony’s role to answer for his crimes, not to pick how he pays for them.
The conversation gets heated once more, with Hannah trying desperately to keep the conversation on how she wants to help victims. Tony asks what more he could possibly do. Guinevere challenges him to apologise to Hannah, at which point Tony declares that he doesn’t have anything to apologise for. Hannah is shocked and confused. Tony goes on a rant to say that being attracted to someone is not a crime. That not refusing flirtations or avoiding any compromising situations was a signal that Hannah was complicit in the exchange. He says that because she never said “no” or “stop” that she is choosing after the fact to have found issue with the circumstances. He goes on to rant that “all he ever did” was masturbate in-front of her. That he never raped her or harmed her. Moses tries to cut Tony off, but he continues, ranting about how his family were destroyed, how his children were bullied, how his life feel apart. He says that all this loss and five years in seclusion should be enough to abate Hannah and all the woman who made allegations against him.
Upon finishing his tirade, Tony realises what he has done. Hannah is utterly beside herself. She tears into him verbally, describing in detail the complete fear he made her feel. The psychological bullying, the status quo of abuse. She describes the threats of being told to be quiet, and the emotional fallout. She talks of how Tony’s actions damaged her relationships, made her scared of others, how even after she plucked up the courage to leave her job she would see Tony on the news or in magazines everywhere she went; and she would feel utter terror for every young girl she saw with him there. How even when she found the courage to come forward, that his constant denials and counter law suits dragged her through the media. How it made her a pariah, and put her under such financial and emotional strain that it even led to her having a miscarriage. She tells him that losing his privacy was nothing to what he took from her. She says that it matters that he feels the weight of his crimes, because she feels them every day.
Tony stumbles for something to say. Moses closes out the show.
After the show, Casey is leaving and Tony stops her in the carpark. Ben has left and Tony has no ride home. Casey confronts him about the awkward moment when she saw him half naked, and he denies engineering the situation. She tells him that his behaviour at the taping was disgusting, reminding him that he was supposed to be an example, a warning to others. She drives off and leaves him.
Later, Tony returns home to find Samantha leaving. He begs her to stay and says that he will be alone. She tells him that maybe this is the best he can hope for.
Tony gets drunk and plays some music. He sees the little girl again, and cries. She walks away from him, and in a fit of rage he destroys his record collection and tears his clothes off. Standing with a lit match, he douses the broken belongings in alcohol and sets them alight.
As an epilogue, we see the little girl who has been haunting Tony, but this time she looks more alive. She is giving an address to her class about how when she grows up, she wants to work in the music industry and be like her hero, Tony Rogers. The teacher thanks the little girl, and we learn that she is a young Heather Walsh. She smiles as the class clap her.
Script Sample: click the download button to read the full draft script of ‘Exile in Tomis’.