The Play (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
As Benefactors begins, Jane relates her memory of the day some fifteen years before when David came home early, bursting with the news that he had just been awarded the architectural contract for an urban housing project in South London. Jane’s recollection is not enthusiastic, for she remembers all the problems that project brought them. David is also onstage, but unaware of the Jane that the audience is seeing. He is instead acting out the long-past day that she is talking about. Their lines overlap, quickly establishing that the play’s action will unfold in flashback style. As David exits, Jane is saying that when Colin heard about the project later that night at supper, he started to make fun of David by taking his usual position as devil’s advocate. Jane turns and blends smoothly into the after-supper flashback scene. Sheila sits silently while David talks about the good that urban renewal projects can do. Colin is playfully against them as socially disruptive, and Jane takes David’s side.
The next scene occurs several weeks later. Like most of the scenes, it takes place in the Kitzingers’ kitchen. David has been working hard trying to fit enough housing units onto a cramped site and has been encountering a lot of bureaucracy. Jane has been helping him by taking a census of the project area’s residents. Colin continues to bait David, deriding his only half-serious idea of building a tower of flats as a solution to the space problem. Sheila again sits silently until the end of the scene, when she tells the audience in direct address how happy she always felt at Jane’s house. This is immediately undercut by Jane’s remark that Sheila is “always flying over with some new disaster.”
Several more short scenes establish the Kitzingers as the good-natured but sometimes reluctant benefactors of the Molyneuxs, with Sheila in particular being pictured as incapable of taking care of her family. Colin, an old school chum of David, continues to debunk the increasingly serious notion of the high-rise building. The action then shifts to two short evening scenes at the Molyneux residence. Colin jokes with Sheila in the first, then turns ugly in the second. He sends Sheila from the room in tears by telling her that she disgusts him. The next day, Sheila is back at Jane’s, nearly hysterical over the recurring thought that Colin might leave her and the children. Jane comforts her and concludes that what Sheila needs is a job.
David is not thrilled at the thought of the incompetent Sheila working for him at the house, but he agrees reluctantly. Colin is not happy about it either, but he does not know how to stop her....
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Dramatic Devices (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
The structure of Benefactors encourages a frankly theatrical approach to producing the play. Frayn himself, in a prefatory note, urges that a minimum of setting and props be used in the staging. Flashbacks and direct addresses to the audience are common theatrical devices, but Frayn employs them somewhat differently from the way they are often used. The play is framed by direct-address remarks. At the beginning of the play, Jane remembers the entire history of events that commenced with David’s childlike enthusiasm for his big housing project as a time when the “cloud-shadows” of her mind made the “bright landscape . . . just travelled through . . . [seem] grey and graceless,” though now that fifteen years have passed, she tells the audience that “that day, at any rate—that’s out in the sunlight again.” In a broad sense, then, the play’s action can be considered as the passage of a particularly difficult set of memories from darkness into the light. The memories are all the ins and outs of benefaction presented by the play’s plot, though perhaps “tapestry of events” would be a more accurate description than the notion of a traditional plot.
Framing the play thus with memories of the characters invites identifying as a subtheme the subjectiveness of memory. This interpretation is closely bound up with the exploration of all the facets of benefaction, for the play’s technique of asides allows the audience to see the...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Sources for Further Study
Blansfield, Karen C. “Michael Frayn.” In British Playwrights, 1956-1995: A Research and Production Sourcebook, edited by William W. Demastes. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996.
Blansfield, Karen C. “Michael Frayn and the World of Work.” South Atlantic Review (November, 1995): 111-127.
Hobson, Harold. “Clouds.” Drama 131 (Winter, 1979): 45-46.
Lawson, M. “The Mark of Frayn.” Drama 169 (Summer, 1988): 8-10.
Page, Malcolm. File on Frayn. London: Methuen, 1994.
Turner, J. F. “Desperately Funny.” Plays and Players 369 (June, 1984): 24-25.
Worth, K. “Farce and Michael Frayn.” Modern Drama 26 (March, 1983): 47-53.