Scenes from the Tragical, Comical, Historical, Pastoral, Implausible Life of Geoffrey Tennant, Actor

Shay Sheridan

A little background: Slings & Arrows is a brilliant Canadian television show that skewers the on-and off-stage antics of a theatre company similar to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. The main character, Geoffrey Tennant, enters the story having suffered a nervous breakdown while on stage performing as Hamlet.

Suffice to say, it's a comedy.

Written for Nancy, as part of the "Midsummer Santa" Challenge.

1. Lights up to full

The Sequel
All's Well that Ends Well
October 2003

"I have fixed the toilet!"

Cue applause.

Act V
Comedy of Errors
July 1997

So London, as it turns out, does in fact swing. And now that he's arrived here -- bloodied and somewhat bowed -- apparently so does Geoffrey.

"Canada? Canadian?" the young punk grunts, tugging at Geoffrey's trousers.

"Uhhh, Canadian, yes. . ." Geoffrey manages to pant out between gasps. The punk has an almost impenetrable accent, but he speaks the language of sex fluently. At least Geoffrey is sure he can't be mistaken in the fellow's intent, since there's a hot hand, not his own, wrapping itself around his penis. "I'm not gay," Geoffrey points out, though he lacks conviction. These days he's not really sure of anything. He's not actually sure how he ended up here, for example, in this seedy dive of a pub, in the bathroom, getting a blowjob from a stranger. Or how he found himself in London, for that matter. He just needed to get away, and Vancouver wasn't far enough, and he didn't have the fare for Australia. "No, really, I'm not gay."

"Uh-huh." A wet mouth descends on his tumescent flesh, and really now, that doesn't require an answer, does it?

Unless, like Mr. Geoffrey Tennant, late of the New Burbage Festival (founded 1953, New Burbage, Ontario), late of the Happy Knolls Sanitarium (December 1996 – July? Is it already July? 1997, Toronto), you're never at a loss for words no matter what your mental state. "'Oh, that this too, too solid flesh would melt,'" he orders his misbehaving dick, perfectly aware that in this context it makes absolutely no sense. Which seems oddly appropriate, as not much has made sense to Geoffrey recently.

The man on his knees in front of him has dark eyes, even darker hair and skin as pale as milk. He said mine eyes were black, and my hair black, and now I am remembered, scorned at me— "Oh, shut up!" Geoffrey exclaims bitterly at the voice inside his head, the voice that at the moment belongs to Ellen Fanshaw (Phoebe, As You Like It, New Burbage 1986 season, director Oliver Wells.)

"Oi!" protests the punk angrily, pulling his mouth off Geoffrey's cock. "I din't say nuffink!"

"No, no, of course you didn't. Sorry. Sorry. Please. . .carry on." Geoffrey smiles winningly, loath to disturb his benefactor from finishing what he's decided is a rather pleasurable activity. Pleasure's been in short supply too, of late. Maybe that's how he ended up being blown by a man, something he hasn't done since university, when Darren Nichols—

Oh no, no, nonono, that's something, someone, he definitely refuses to think about; when it comes to never wanting to think of something again, Darren Nichols is right up there with Ellen and Oliver and Hamlet and—

Geoffrey staggers back against the tile wall, hands over his ears, bellowing, "'Enough! No more! 'Tis like the howling of Irish wolves against the moon!'" which, oddly, he also hears echoed by Ellen (Rosalind, As You Like It, New Burbage 1994, director Oliver Wells).

So the young punk stops, angrily shows him two fingers and staggers out of the loo cursing him soundly and colorfully. Leaving Geoffrey to bang his head against the wall in frustration -- "No! Not you! Sorry! Come back, come—aaaaah, fuck! Fuck! FUUUUUCCCKK!" --having just discovered several painful truths: One, that just being told you're no longer crazy doesn't make it true, and Two, no matter how far away you run, your baggage always comes along for the ride.

And apparently so does the entire New Burbage Festival.

Act IV
January 1997

"Now Mr. Geoffrey, you got to take your pills."


The big man folds muscular arms. "Please, Mr. Geoffrey, doan be makin' me have to call dah seestah."

"'Angels and ministers of grace defend me!'" The orderly leaps but Geoffrey's too quick, clever with the skill of the anticly disposed. He slides away, posing melodramatically in the doorway, one hand pressed to his chest, eyelashes fluttering in the manner of Ellen Fanshaw as Lydia Languish (The Rivals, New Burbage 1990, director Oliver Wells). "Not the sister, mister, for God's sake!" he titters. "For God's sake. . ." His eyes roll left and go vague and the voices in his ears start up again: For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground, and tell sad stories of the death of kings— (Stephen Ouimette, Richard, Richard II, New Burbage 1992, director Oliver Wells), Cry God for Harry, England, and St. George!— (Paul Gross, Henry, Henry V, 1994, director Oliver Wells), Pray God defend me! A little thing would make me tell them how much I lack of a man!— (Ellen Fanshaw, Viola, Twelfth Night, 1992, director Oliver Wells)—

"Mr. Geoffrey," sighs the orderly, a perfectly unflappable African named Adimbo Matakimbo, "you not goin' strange on me again, ah you?"

"'I shall be strange, stout, in yellow stockings and cross-gartered, even with the swiftness of putting on—'" (Leslie Nielson, Malvolio, Twelfth Night, 1992) —"'Though this be madness, yet there's method in it'. . . Wait, wait, wait--" Geoffrey's face screws up "--that's Polonius, isn't it? Who was my Polonius? 'That he's mad, 'tis true, 'tis true 'tis pity, And pity 'tis 'tis true!' but who the hell was it? Why! Can't! I! Remember! Can't, fuck, can't can't--" He bolts for the door, but there's a strong black hand on his arm and he struggles in vain. "'By heaven, I'll make a ghost of him that lets me!'" (Geoffrey Tennant, Hamlet, director, Oliver Wells, Hamlet, Oliver Wells, Hamlet, Geoffrey, Oliver, Ellen, Oliver, oliveroliveroliveroliveroliveraaaaaaaaaaaaaa--)

"What in Hell is going on?"

"Hell. . .hell indeed, hell, hell, hell, ha ha, ha, 'Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,' 'Words, words, words,' fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck--"

"Ah, Seestah Margaret," says Adimbo, stepping back deferentially (and not without a certain trepidation),"Seestah, Seestah, Mr. Geoffey, he—"

"'A sister, you are she!'" Geoffrey announces delightedly, bowing with a flourish, flashing the hallway a slice of pale naked ass. "'Get thee to a nunnery!'" He peers down at the diminutive head nurse. "'My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun'. . . Hmm. Nope. Not like the sun at all. More like the bulging eyes of a goldfish. Or maybe a Pekinese, wouldn't you say, Adimbo? Some kind of animal. Piggish. 'With foreheads villainous low—'"

"Matakimbo," says Nurse Margaret evenly, "set up the ECT room. It seems Mr. Geoffrey needs a little more shock therapy today."

Much Ado About Nothing
December 5, 1996, 9:52 pm

Geoffrey Tennant's first experience with a classic Actor's Nightmare came during his first year at university, on the eve of his opening as Marc Antony in Julius Caesar. Though the coveted role of Brutus went to a visiting artist, among the students Geoffrey was clearly the designated Director's Favorite, much to the chagrin of some and the particular fury of Darren Nichols (who had been shuffled off into the role of Lepidus). Geoffrey was always the favorite; he showed "marked potential" (M. Henry Pugh, Chairman, Theatre Department), was "an inspired actor, even at this young age," (Jacques-Guillaume Lalongue, director, Julius Caesar), and was clearly "well on his way to a successful career" (Christopher Plummer, visiting artist). He was also considered "eminently fuckable" by Calpurnia, Portia, the Soothsayer, Jane the stage manager, Cinna the poet and Brian the costume designer).

As Actor's Nightmares go it was fairly tame; in it Geoffrey found himself naked and alone on stage with the curtain rising on a full house. He could remember only one line, and babbled "Friends, Romans, countrymen" over and over until the shock of it all woke him up. Thinking back on it later, he found the dream comical in its innocence; at the time it wrenched him out of his bed and kept him pacing the floor for the rest of the night.

The next evening's opening was a success. He was a success. The actress playing Portia learned at the cast party that Geoffrey was, indeed, fuckable.

Later nightmares were neither as simple nor as benign. They became mean-spirited, Technicolor movies Starring Geoffrey Tennant! Directed by Geoffrey Tennant! A Geoffrey Tennant Production! based on the secret insecurities that contributed to his brilliance.

There was Geoffrey's fear-of-exclusion dream: in this nightmare Geoffrey arrives backstage for opening night to discover he's missed every rehearsal because he was never informed of time or place. The other actors avoid him, look daggers at him. And there, on the backstage callboard, someone has posted a note: Don't trust Geoffrey Tennant – he doesn't know his lines.

Horrible. Embarrassing. Unfair.

There was Geoffrey's betrayal nightmare: Geoffrey arrives at the theatre, again opening night, to find someone else in his role, someone already on stage in the part he loves. Someone has stabbed him in the back and stolen his starring part. But no one backstage will believe he ever had the role, and so he rushes on stage, rapier in hand, to confront the thief, but just as the betrayer starts to turn, to reveal his face –

-- Geoffrey wakes, frustrated, angry. Hurt.

Then there was the fear dream, which thankfully he suffered only once, following a drunken, debauched, discussion-filled night, Ellen and Oliver sprawling next to him on Oliver's ancient couches, speaking of nothing but Hamlet, Hamlet, Hamlet. A glorious night. A terrifying realization: I am going to take on Hamlet next season.

In the dream he is performing How all occasions do inform against me while massive steam engines repeatedly hurtle towards him from the wings. He cannot finish a thought, nor grasp the meaning of his words, for fear of being obliterated--

--and he's naked.

That one would have been good for a few rounds of therapy, if Geoffrey had believed in therapy back then.

But nothing, nothing compares with this nightmare, the one he's in the throes of right now. It's the ultimate actor's fear of going up on his lines mid-scene with no lifeline in sight, but it's so much more than that. Time stretches into infinity as the audience stares, aghast, at the nothingness happening on the stage. The nothingness he, Geoffrey Tennant, Hamlet, has caused to occur.

Sweat pours down his face and breaks out on his clammy hands. There is a remote buzzing in his ears, a rumble of unease from the audience, lines thrown haphazardly from the actors impotently trying to spur him to his intent. Nothing. Nothing in his brain. He turns away from the actors, away from the embarrassment of the audience, his eyes unable to focus on anything except his own emptiness, and then he sees it again, the pale face staring at him from the shadows of the wings. Only one word forms in his mind, not a word that will help him, but one that expands to fill every last centimeter of his empty mind.


There is no reply. There is nothing. Nothing. Nothing will come of nothing. . .

Please, he screams, please just let me wake up, let me wake up, please, please—

But he doesn't wake up, and the nightmare doesn't end, because it's not a nightmare at all, it's really happening, to him, to the great Geoffrey Tennant, in the middle of the greatest play ever written, while playing the greatest part that can be given to an actor. And not only are there no words in his mind, but there's nothing left in his soul but anguish, because she has sucked out his soul, she, the succubus, Ellen, the betrayer, the beloved, she who watches from the wings, watches him drown in nothing, nothing, nothing, she whose grave he stands above. The grave. . .the empty pit, crawling with the maggots of his imagination, calls him, urges him forward to escape this nightmare-reality. So Geoffrey lets himself fall, down, down, down, down I come, down like glist'ring Phaeton, down to nothingness. . .

. . .aaaaaaaand –


Act II
Love's Labors Lost
December 5, 1996, 4:42 pm





"'Ah! The fair Ophelia!' I'm back! Oh dear Christ, you would not have believed it. It was fucking horrible. These TV executives—gahhhh! I've been through hell, really I have. You have no idea-- the show? A fucking cop show, and it's fucking awful, they have no fucking clue how to—"

"I slept with Oliver."

"—do anything with integrity, and. . .what?"

"I slept with Oliver."

"You. . .huh. . .I'm sorry -- what?"

"You heard me, Geoffrey. I. Slept. With. Oliver. While you were in Toronto."

"Hahahahaha, you slept with. . ."

". . ."

". . .Ellen. Ellen?"

". . . I'm hanging up now, Geoffrey."

"No, no, come on, Ellen. You didn't. You. . .did not. No. No. Why. . .Ellen! You did not sleep with Oliver! Not Oliver--"


"Ellen. . ."

The rest is silence.

Act I
December 4, 1996

One thing Geoffrey has learned in this business, and yes, though it pains him to admit it, acting is a business – is that success generates buzz. His Hamlet opens to success.

Buzz follows.

Buzz is why he's in Toronto on the dark Monday following his brilliant debut reading for a new television series, something about a crusading detective fighting for justice in the gritty streets of New York City-as-played-by-Vancouver. "We think you'd give it, you know, an edge." (Myron Krystal, Vice-President, ABS Entertainment Development Division).

"A legit edge." (Barry McKenzie, Partnership Pacifica Productions).

"What does that mean, exactly?" Geoffrey inquires, smiling a professional smile. His mind is still on the scene he'd played with Ellen earlier, where she'd hurled Yorick's skull at him, screaming Fine, move to fucking Vancouver! Do a fucking TV show, forget me, that's what you do best, isn't it, Geoffrey? Forget the people who love you! The people like me, and Oliver, yes, Geoffrey, Oliver loves you too, and-- And he'd shouted back Don't be so fucking dramatic, Ellen! Christ, I can't bear you when you're like this. If you really loved me---

"You know, Geoffrey, legit," McKenzie says, "you being a serious actor and all. We'd like to take this show out of the usual shoot-'em-up, bang, bang, good-guys-vs.-bad-guys cops and robbers stuff, and turn it into something more. Something different--"

"Different how?" --Love? Love? you don't love anyone but yourself, Geoffrey. You don't love me -- Oliver, even Oliver loves me more than you do! And he'd turned in the door, shouting Fuck Oliver!

"How?" Krystal leans forward. "Well, Geoff -- may I call you Geoff?"

"I prefer Geoffrey, actually—"

"Great. See, Geoff, the title character is 'Johnny Hamlet' – a private detective, an ex-cop who carries a gun in one hand and a volume of Shakespeare instead of a badge. He's always quoting stuff, to, you know, comment on the action, like, 'to be or not to be,' after he has to shoot a guy, or 'it was the best of times, it was worse than that' when he gets knocked out -- you know, Shakespeare."

Five minutes later, when he's been hustled out of the office for shouting I'd rather muck out toilets in experimental theatre for the rest of my life than play Johnny Fucking-Hamlet! Geoffrey has time to reflect, between bouts of semi-hysterical laughter, that at least Ellen will be happy.

April 30, 1970

FORTINBRAS: Go. . .bid the soldiers shoot.

119. Lights fade to half.
120. Cannon F/X.
121. Spotlight, center right, follows body.
122. Fade out.
123. Drums out.
124. Curtain.
125. Applause


126. House lights up

BOY'S FATHER: So. What did you think of it?

BOY: Dad. . .is Hamlet crazy?

FATHER: Well, now that's the big question, Geoff, isn't it?


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