The Play

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

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...

(The entire section is 981 words.)