Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
One critic described Lend Me a Tenor as “an American farce in the classic French tradition.” Like all good farces, the play celebrates human foibles with a focus on basic human drives—the pursuit of pleasure, money, glory, and above all, a particularly earthy and immediate expression of love. Also, like most farces, it has no deep symbolism or literary complexity in the thematic sense; rather, its focus is on basic character drives and their actions in pursuit of their desires: Max wants Maggie to marry him; Maggie lusts after Tito; Saunders is preoccupied with money; Diana uses her sexuality in pursuit of fame; and so on.
Although one critic found the play’s 1934 setting to have a “museum-piece air” that seemed a “cop-out,” there may be something more behind the period setting. In many scenes, the play exhibits the influence of the vaudevillian stand-up comedy duo of the period. For example, there are several moments of verbal banter between Saunders and Max that are reminiscent of Abbot and Costello routines. More important, the setting shares some elements with Ludwig’s other works, which are mostly set in the past and also display a fascination with musical and dramatic performers and their works. In fact, Ludwig displays a penchant for a playful reexamination of the past. Even though he fictionalizes the performers, they are clearly based on typical performers of the period, if not actual persons.
On another level, this is also a romantic comedy focusing on the relationship between Max and Maggie. In fact, the play’s opening scene belongs more to the genre of romantic comedy than to that of farce. The play then gradually accelerates to the farcical so that by act 2, it is in full force. Interestingly, each act ends with a romantic moment between Max and Maggie. In the first act, Max, disguised as Tito, kisses her palm in a manner she has previously described to him. At the end of the second act, Max, returned to himself, reveals his masquerade (and performance in that evening’s opera) by singing Maggie an excerpt from Otello.