The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Butley opens with the eponymous character entering the office he shares with his former student and colleague, Joey. The room is a study in contrasts—Ben Butley’s desk and bookcase a disheveled mess and Joey’s accommodations spartan but impeccably ordered. After tossing his raincoat on his colleague’s desk, Ben fiddles with each desk’s reading lamp, neither of which works.

Ben is soon interrupted by a student seeking a tutorial on William Wordsworth; Ben, however, offers the excuse that he has too many administrative duties. When Joey enters, he notices that Ben has cut himself shaving, and the audience soon learns that Ben’s wife has left him and that he and Joey have been sharing a flat. Much of the first act is taken up with Ben’s prying for details of Joey’s visit to the home of his new lover’s parents over the past weekend.

Ben is clearly annoyed, even hurt, that Joey neither telephoned nor returned to their flat and has made arrangements to have dinner at Reg’s place that evening. Ben continually threatens to invite himself for dinner rather than spend another evening alone. Another central topic of discussion involves Joey’s imminent promotion, with Ben continually hinting that all may not progress smoothly unless Joey curries his mentor’s favor.

Throughout their verbal jockeying, they are repeatedly interrupted—by James, the department chair, whom Ben continually puts off with the excuse that he has students present; by Miss Heasman, an eager new student seeking an appointment for her tutorial with Ben; and by Edna Shaft, an elderly, pedantic colleague who is annoyed by a lazy student who is attempting to transfer from her class into Ben’s tutorials.

While on the surface uneventful, these scenes are charged with Ben’s inexhaustible humor and wit, as...

(The entire section is 754 words.)