Beggar on Horseback begins in a run-down, inexpensive apartment rented by a young composer named Neil McRae. Since Neil is in the habit of leaving his door unlocked, Dr. Albert Rice, Neil’s friend, walks in. He is no sooner in the room than Cynthia Mason, Neil’s neighbor, walks in. After a brief conversation, she realizes that they share a mutual interest in Neil, who has been forced to give private music lessons and to do hackwork at night to make ends meet. He has therefore had to postpone completion of the symphony on which he had been working. When Neil returns, he tells them that the family of his only music student, Gladys Cady, is coming for tea. He invites Cynthia to the party, but she declines.
Gladys arrives, accompanied by her mother, father, and brother, Homer. Cynthia’s father is a well-to-do businessman who is constantly talking on the telephone. While Gladys shows Neil some cloth samples for a dress that she plans to have made, Mr. and Mrs. Cady question Albert about his family. Mr. Cady then suggests that Neil forget about writing “highbrow” music and start giving the public what it wants so that he can make more money. Before leaving, Mrs. Cady asks Neil to play the piano for them the next time they come over, and Mr. Cady invites Albert to play golf with him.
After the Cadys leave, Albert takes Cynthia aside and tells her that Neil is wasting his genius on the “hack” orchestrations that he has been writing. He goes on to suggest that Neil marry Gladys so that he will be financially secure and have time to write. Cynthia reluctantly agrees. Before he leaves, Albert gives Neil a sleeping pill. Neil then confesses to Cynthia that he loves her, but she informs him that she is moving uptown the next day to room with a friend. Disheartened, Neil, who is now groggy from the effects of the pill, proposes to Gladys over the phone, drops the receiver, and passes out.
The expressionistic part of the play begins as Neil begins to dream. He is roused by the sounds of a jazz orchestra across the street, which, at his command, begins to play a jazzy version of the wedding march from Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin (1846-1848). Gladys and her family appear, dressed up for a wedding, although in an exaggerated fashion. Albert, acting as minister, informs Neil that he is getting married. While Albert conducts the ceremony, a trainman walks by (the wedding is occurring in a train station) yelling, “Wolverine to Monte Carlo.” Gladys and Neil are married as the lights dim.
When the lights come up again, Gladys...
(The entire section is 1057 words.)