As the curtain rises on The Bald Soprano, the audience sees a “middle-class interior” and is witness to what appears to be a naturalistic “slice of life.” Mr. Smith is sitting comfortably near a fireplace, smoking a pipe and reading the newspaper, while Mrs. Smith is darning some socks. This impression of blissful tranquillity is interrupted by something unexpected and odd: The clock strikes seventeen strokes. The general tone of the play is immediately set when Mrs. Smith exclaims: “Goodness! It’s nine o’clock.” Mr. and Mrs. Smith proceed to tell each other what they both already know: what they had for dinner, the number of helpings each had, and the names and personal traits of their children. This conversation leads Mrs. Smith to discuss the merits of a Romanian grocer who has a diploma from a yogurt-making academy. While extolling the medicinal virtues of yogurt, she is reminded of a doctor who tries all medicines and operations on himself first. Mr. Smith responds that the man cannot be a good doctor: “A conscientious doctor must die with his patient if they can’t get well together.” Mr. Smith adds, “All doctors are quacks. And all patients too. Only the Royal Navy is honest in England.”
The clock then strikes seven times and again three times after a long silence. To add to this temporal confusion, Mr. Smith reads in the obituary section about the death of a man named Bobby Watson who died, Mr. Smith says, about two years ago. During their conversation, however, the Smiths continually contradict themselves, making it difficult to know when the man really did die. What is more, the audience learns that Bobby Watson’s wife is also called Bobby Watson; “as they had the same name, when you saw them together you could never tell one from the other.” This situation of mistaken identity extends to many other members of the family, all of whom are named Bobby Watson.
Mary, the maid, enters and informs the Smiths that Mr. and Mrs. Martin are at the door. Although they had been invited to dinner, they did not dare enter. They were waiting outside until someone showed them in. The Smiths leave the stage to change clothes for dinner and the Martins are ushered in. Left alone onstage, the two strike up a casual conversation. Is it possible that they might have met before? To their absolute amazement, they gradually discover that they both come from Manchester, take the same train, and live in the same street, the same building, the same floor, and the same apartment, which they share with a two-year-old daughter who has one white eye and one red. Could they be married to each other? As the clock strikes twenty-nine times, the Martins move toward each other: “Elizabeth, I have found you again!” “Donald, it’s you, darling!” The evidence seems irrefutable. They are indeed husband and wife—or are they? As the two promise not to lose sight of each other ever again, the maid informs the audience that Elizabeth and Donald are not who they think they are, and the child of whom Donald spoke is not Elizabeth’s daughter. In fact, Mary is not Mary: “My real name is Sherlock Holmes.”
When the Smiths join the Martins, the two couples exchange embarrassing silences, nervous coughs and laughter, and cliches devoid of any real meaning. The stories that they tell are of a peculiar nature. While they find extraordinary the most commonplace human acts—such as a man bending down to tie his shoelaces—they accept as natural and ordinary the most fantastic occurrences.
The doorbell rings to interrupt their nonsensical conversation. Mrs. Smith naturally assumes that someone is at the door. After three different trips to answer it, she concludes that, though it may be true in theory that when the doorbell rings there must be someone at the door, “experience teaches us that when you hear a ring at the doorbell it means that there’s never anybody there.” When the bell rings a fourth time, Mrs. Smith...
(The entire section is 4,545 words.)