Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Tiny Alice was first staged at the Billy Rose Theater on December 29, 1964, and it ran for 167 performances. It starred Sir John Gielgud, Irene Worth, William Hutt, Eric Berry, and John Heffernan; Alan Schneider directed. Tiny Alice provoked a fury of critical responses at its premiere, ranging from “brilliant” to “sophomoric.” Most critics, as well as the performers involved, confessed to not understanding the play and called it a metaphysical muddle. One reviewer dismissed it as a Faustian drama written by a highly endowed college student. Subsequent revivals of the work have aroused the same acrimonious response.
Albee, in introductory remarks to the published text in 1965, kept the controversy alive by writing:It has been the expressed hope of many that I would write a preface to the published text of Tiny Alice, clarifying obscure points in the play—explaining my intention, in other words. I have decided against creating such a guide because I find—after reading the play over—that I share the view of even more people: that the play is quite clear.
What is clear is that Albee did not include Tiny Alice as an important or representative work when he published Selected Plays of Edward Albee in 1987.
Despite its confusing allegorical structure, Tiny Alice has more of a plot coherence than most of Albee’s other plays. Miss Alice is the world’s richest woman;...
(The entire section is 645 words.)
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Act 1 Summary
The play opens in a garden. Lawyer is talking nonsense to a pair of cardinals in a cage as Cardinal, a cardinal in the Catholic Church, enters. Conversation reveals that the two men went to school together and maintain a lasting dislike for each other. The two men throw around insults. Cardinal says it is fitting that Lawyer, who always was a cheater and a liar, has chosen the legal profession, and Lawyer counters that it is fitting that Cardinal, an arrogant, pompous whore, is in the Church. Eventually, the men turn their attention to the business at hand: Lawyer’s employer, Miss Alice, wants to give two billion to the Church. The Cardinal is very excited at the prospect of so much money (though the currency is never named). At Lawyer’s request, he agrees to send his secretary, Julian, a lay brother to Miss Alice’s house to take care of the ‘‘necessary odds and ends.’’
In Scene Two, Julian has just entered the library of Miss Alice’s mansion. The room’s most prominent feature is a huge doll house model of the mansion itself. Butler, Miss Alice’s butler, comes into the library. He sees Julian looking at the house and points out that it is an exact replica of the mansion. Butler asks if anyone is in the replica, which startles Julian, who ascertains that the model is empty. Lawyer enters the library. He reveals that he knows Julian’s history, with the exception of a six-year blank period,...
(The entire section is 560 words.)
Act 2 Summary
Lawyer chases Miss Alice into the library, while she is yelling at him to stay away. Lawyer is angry that Julian is at the house all the time. He tells Miss Alice that she should ‘‘get it done with.’’ He thinks that she is sleeping with Julian. Miss Alice talks of her loathing for Lawyer but at the same time, lets him fondle her. Butler and Julian return from their tour around the mansion. Julian notices that the model is on fire. Butler looks out the windows and he sees that the chapel is burning. The men run off to put out the fire, and Miss Alice stays in the library. Alternating between a ‘‘prayer’’ voice and a natural voice, she asks that the fire be put out and the mansion be saved. Julian returns with news that the fire is out. He wants to know why Edward Albee the real chapel and the model chapel were both in flames, but Miss Alice says she doesn’t know why.
Butler and Lawyer are in the library. Butler says the fire in the chapel helped bring Miss Alice and Julian together. Lawyer expresses his distaste of them sleeping together, but Butler reminds him that the situation will not last long. Lawyer has to go see Cardinal again, so they decide to play act; Butler takes the role of Lawyer and Lawyer plays Cardinal. Butler, as Lawyer, tells Cardinal that Julian will be taken from the Church in return for the 2 billion. The men slip in and out of their roles, discussing what Lawyer will say....
(The entire section is 435 words.)
Act 3 Summary
Julian and Miss Alice have just married. Julian enters the library where Butler is covering all the furniture with sheets. Julian wonders where everyone, including Miss Alice, has disappeared. Julian wonders why Miss Alice did not invite friends to the ceremony, but Butler says that she does not have friends. Then Miss Alice comes in the room, but when she sees Julian, she immediately leaves again. Then Cardinal comes in the room, and Butler leaves. Julian speaks to Cardinal excitedly about doing service for God through his marriage to Miss Alice. Cardinal advises Julian to accept what may happen in the future as part of his service and part of God’s will. After Lawyer comes into the room, Julian exits to look for Alice. Cardinal looks at the model, asking obliquely if it is really true. Lawyer says it is. He opens a drawer and takes out a loaded pistol. When Cardinal questions this, Lawyers say they may have to shot Julian. Soon enough, everyone is gathered in the library. Butler opens the champagne and Lawyer starts a toast to the ‘‘ceremony of Alice.’’ As Lawyer toasts Alice and Julian and their house, lights begin to flicker on in the model. Julian makes his own toast to his love for Miss Alice. As soon as he is done, Lawyer announces it is time to go. Julian realizes that something is going on that he does not understand. Lawyer tells Julian that they are going, while he will stay behind with Alice. Miss Alice tells Julian that she has done her best to...
(The entire section is 612 words.)