Ken Duncum


Excerpt from Picture Perfect

(2008. Jenny and Alex are testing a new home entertainment system—the Hol-Life. Jenny uses it to create an interactive hologram of their 18 year old son, Clydie, who died in an accident two years previously. As Jenny works to programme the Clydie hologram to become as lifelike as possible, both Alex and their daughter Bailie (17) are increasingly perturbed by her obsessive relationship with it and her attempts to include it in family life. In this scene Jenny—despite opposition from Bailie—has prepared a special dinner at which Clydie is to join the family. The table is laid. Jenny and Alex sit, Bailie sits grudgingly.)

JENNY: Clydie.
(The Hol-Life whirs into action. Clydie appears. He comes and sits on the fourth chair. It’s still at a slight distance—but as close as Jenny can get it.)

CLYDIE: How come I get the split end? Should’ve oiled it like the shop said, Dad.

ALEX (looks at Jenny): Cute.
Right—(He makes a move for the food.)

JENNY: I think Clydie has a few words.
(She nods at Clydie.)

CLYDIE: Bailie.
(Bailie looks up surprised, but ducks her head back down.)
I know you find all this strange. Me strange. But I want to get to know you. I want you to get used to me. Again.
(Bailie refuses to look up)
And Dad…get me some more projectors, man, I’m sick of this room.

ALEX: How about you get a job to pay for it?

JENNY (serving): Don’t be ridiculous, Alex. He’s studying.

ALEX: To…memories.
(They toast, wait for Bailie to raise her glass, then drink.)

JENNY: Everybody got something? I thought Clydie might say grace.

BAILIE: Say what?

JENNY: Perfectly non-denominational.

BAILIE: We never say grace.

JENNY: We’re all here together—it’s just nice.

BAILIE: Clydie wouldn’t know to say that.

JENNY: Clydie?
(Clydie looks at her.)

JENNY: Would you like to say grace?

CLYDIE: For what we are about to receive—

BAILIE: He didn’t know any of this.
(Clydie stops and looks at Bailie.)

JENNY: Clydie, would you like to say grace?

CLYDIE: For what we are—

BAILIE: He thought religion was bullshit.

ALEX: Bailie.

BAILIE: He did!

JENNY: It’s very rude to interrupt.

BAILIE: Interrupt what? That’s like saying it’s rude to talk while the tv’s on.

ALEX: Just—settle. It won’t kill you.

BAILIE: And if it does you can just make a hologram out of me.
(Jenny controls herself.)

JENNY: I want you to share this. Please. Even if it’s odd, wacky, embarrassing…I know it’s not Clydie. I know! But it’s something.
(Alex lays his hand on Jenny’s.)

ALEX: We’re trying.
(looks at Bailie)
Aren’t we?
(Bailie looks down.)

JENNY: Let’s forget about grace—just eat.

BAILIE (trying): What does he eat? Clydie.


JENNY: I’m working on it.

ALEX: No—let’s do the grace thing. I want to hear it.

JENNY: It’s fine.

ALEX: Clydie? Would you like to say grace?

CLYDIE: For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us
(Bailie sneezes. Clydie stops and looks at her.)

ALEX: You should be able to program him to override interruptions—

JENNY: It’s normally just me, he’s not used to—

ALEX: Clydie, would you like to say grace?

CLYDIE: For what—
(Alex claps his hands, Clydie stops, looks at him.)

ALEX: It seems to be pretty much any noise. Clydie, would you like to say grace?

CLYDIE: For what—
(Alex clicks his fingers loudly, Clydie stops, looks at him.)

ALEX: Or you could set him to loop back to the beginning of the sentence. It should have a repeat function.

CLYDIE: Repeat function on.

JENNY: Of course, I’ve tried that—

ALEX: Clydie, would you like to say grace?

CLYDIE: For what we are about—
(Alex clicks his fingers, Clydie stops, loops back.)

CLYDIE: For what—

JENNY: It just makes him sound like a broken record.

(Alex keeps clicking his fingers at different distances and different volumes, Clydie keeps looping back, getting one word out.)

ALEX: You just have to get rid of that sensitivity, he must be confusing it with speech.

JENNY: Would you stop that?

ALEX (still clicking): If you like I could take a look at—

(Everyone stops but Clydie. In the silence—)

CLYDIE: For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful.

JENNY: No repeat function.

CLYDIE: Repeat function off.
(Silence. Bailie lifts her head, defiantly.)

BAILIE: Clydie? Would you like to say grace?

CLYDIE: For what—

JENNY: Bailie.

BAILIE: Clydie, would you like to say grace?


ALEX: Come on. Now come on—

BAILIE: Clydie, would you like to say grace?
(She keeps on repeating it, aggressively, faster and faster, sending Clydie into a tighter and tighter loop. Alex is talking, trying to stop her, but is drowned out. Jenny goes whiter and whiter. She suddenly rises and pulls everything off the table.)

ALEX: For Christ sake!

JENNY: Get out.
(She’s glaring at Bailie with hatred.)


ALEX (to Bailie): Maybe you should—go upstairs for—

BAILIE (to Jenny): Fuck you.
(She runs out of the house.)

(Alex and Jenny.)

JENNY: Don’t even talk to me.

ALEX: Still swinging, tiger? Ready to do some more damage?

JENNY: Neither of you has got the slightest idea how I feel.

ALEX: You’re all alone?


ALEX: Nobody knows the trouble you’ve seen?

JENNY: Just shut up, Alex! For Christ sake just stop talking!

ALEX: Not even the slightest, the slightest idea? That’s my son you’ve stitched together.

JENNY: And what have you done? What have you done since he died? What kind of man are you?

ALEX: I’ve tried. Tried with you, tried with Bailie—

JENNY: There’s no prizes for trying, Alex. Help me. Fill this hole in me.

ALEX: I can’t.

JENNY: Then get out of my face.
(Alex looks at her a moment—then turns and walks out. Jenny sinks down. She’s sobbing, grovelling in the wreckage of the dinner.)

JENNY: Don’t look at me. Don’t look.
(Clydie stands up.)

CLYDIE: Don’t cry, Mum.
(Jenny stops, her back to him.)
Don’t be sad.
(Exhausted, Jenny rolls herself tightly in the tablecloth and curls up at his feet. He stands like a sentinel—as if he’s guarding her—as she sleeps.)



Ken Duncum has been writing for theatre and television for over 20 years, and is recognised as one of New Zealand’s leading playwrights. A recent all-time ‘Top 30’ list of New Zealand plays (as voted by theatre professionals) featured three of Ken’s plays (Blue Sky Boys, Flipside and Horseplay), the highest tally of any playwright. Similarly, his work for television has won awards in New Zealand and been screened internationally. His plays include a loose trilogy looking at the impact of music on New Zealand—from 50’s rock ‘n roll vs Beatles-era British Invasion (Blue Sky Boys), 70’s Glam (John, I’m Only Dancing) and Punk (Waterloo Sunset). He has also written plays about men lost at sea (Flipside), Polish saints (The Temptations Of St. Max), unsolved murders (Trick Of The Light) and dark goings-on in smalltown New Zealand (Horseplay). Ken’s play Cherish, charting the dramatic reverberations of a surrogacy dispute between two gay and lesbian couples, won Best New New Zealand Play at the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards in 2003—making it two in a row for Ken as his play Trick Of The Light won the same award the previous year. Cherish was published in 2004 and was produced in New York in 2006. Ken has also written extensively for tv drama series such as Duggan and Cover Story (for which he won Best Script For Drama at the NZ Film and Television Awards) as well as tv comedy (receiving an award for Best Writer— Comedy at the 2002 TV Awards for Willy Nilly). In 2001 Ken was appointed Director of the MA Scriptwriting programme at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington—in which position he continues to foster emerging New Zealand scriptwriting talent. Ken’s most recent play, Picture Perfect, from which the present scene is extracted, has just had a premiere production at Circa Theatre in his home city of Wellington, NZ.