The setting for Watch on the Rhine is the Farrelly estate. Located about twenty miles from Washington, D.C., the estate is home to Fanny Farrelly, a wealthy widow, and her thirty-nine-year-old bachelor son, David, who commutes to his law practice in the city. The time of the play is the late spring of 1940, and on this day Fanny’s daughter, Sara, will return to the estate for the first time in the twenty years since her marriage. She is to be accompanied by her husband, Kurt Muller, and their children, ages nine, twelve, and fourteen. Muller is a citizen of Germany and is active in the anti-Fascist movement. Because of his politics, he and Sara have found it necessary to move their family from place to place in Europe, and they have enjoyed none of the luxuries that surrounded Sara as a young girl. This deprivation, among other things, concerns Sara’s mother as it did Sara’s late father, a judge and diplomat.
The play begins in the living room of the estate, where Fanny Farrelly, her French housekeeper, Anise, and her butler, Joseph, discuss Sara’s pending arrival. Fanny is quite anxious and shows it by her brusque and demanding behavior. Her servants, who have been with the Farrelly family for many years and who know Fanny very well, are tolerant and remain composed. Anise sorts the morning mail, while Joseph prepares to serve breakfast. It is eight-thirty in the morning, and Fanny is concerned that David, whom she accuses of being late for their nine o’clock breakfast, will not be on time to meet Sara and her family when they arrive on the noon train.
Fanny goes over her own mail while discussing with Anise the imagined contents of items addressed to others in the household. Fanny’s houseguests for the previous six weeks have been the Count and Countess de Brancovis, Teck and Marthe. Anise notes that some of the mail addressed to the guests appears to be bills. Fanny’s guests are members of the Romanian aristocracy, but they are without means and live at the expense of those in the world who will accommodate them. Count de Brancovis is a Nazi sympathizer. He visits the capital frequently in order to maintain contact with friends in the German embassy. His wife, Marthe, and David Farrelly are in love. The count is aware of the feelings between the two, and he threatens Marthe early in the play, warning her not to make any plans with David.
Once Anise has exited the stage, and Fanny, David, Marthe, and Teck are offstage as well, presumably being served breakfast by Joseph, Sara and her family enter. The Mullers have arrived on an earlier train, chosen because it costs less to ride than does the noon one. They are discovered by Anise, who happens upon them as Sara, reminded by her surroundings, reminisces about her childhood and the wealth which had been part of her life.
Fanny and David are summoned by Anise, and, after a few moments of enthusiastic greetings and introductions, there is some serious talk concerning the fact that Kurt’s anti-Fascist activities have forced the family to live in hiding much of the time and that the family has obviously had inadequate funds to meet their barest needs. Sara defends Kurt to her family, and he explains with eloquence that, having seen members of his own village murdered in a Nazi street fight, he has no option but to work, when and where he can, to defeat the Fascists and Nazis.
The Romanians are introduced to Kurt, who evades the count’s questions about his background....
(The entire section is 1429 words.)