Maxwell Anderson’s Both Your Houses is a political satire that is as relevant today as it was when it was first performed in 1933. The title comes from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, in which Mercutio calls in his dying speech for ‘‘a plague on both your houses,’’ referring to two warring families, the Montagues and the Capulets. In Anderson’s play, the title refers to the two houses of Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
The play takes place during the Great Depression and concerns an idealistic young congressman who takes the surprising position of opposing a bill that provides money for a huge construction project in his district. Alan McClean has found out since his election that the price being charged to the taxpayers for construction of the dam in his state is much more than it needs to be; in addition, there are hundreds of other, unrelated expenditures that have been added to the dam project to buy the support of congressmen from other states. Though his fight will probably cost him future support from his peers, from his constituents, and from the woman in whom he is interested (the daughter of the Appropriations Committee chairman), McClean struggles to gather opposition to a bill he knows is wrong. Throughout the play, Anderson keeps audiences balanced between the young man’s idealism and the accepted way of doing business. He questions the assumption that bribes and compromise are the only way to get anything achieved in the political arena.