The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Curse of the Starving Class begins with Wesley, in sweatshirt and jeans, tossing pieces of a door into a wheelbarrow. It is morning. Center stage is a table, downstage a refrigerator and stove. Suspended in air, left and right, are faded curtains. Ella, in curlers, wearing a bathrobe, is angry with Weston for having broken the door during the night, but brightens at finding bread and bacon in the refrigerator. As she cooks, Wesley recounts the night’s events, making car sounds as he pushes the wheelbarrow off. Ella talks about menstruation as Emma, who is having her first period, enters. Wearing a 4-H Club uniform, Emma carries charts illustrating how to cut up a chicken. Finding the chicken she butchered for her demonstration gone, she storms off. While Ella eats her breakfast, Wesley urinates on Emma’s charts. Returning, Emma asks, “What kind of a family is this?”

The play presents a seemingly bizarre family and a series of events involving the sale of its home, but actually pointing to the disintegration of the family. The Tates live on a farm where they formerly raised sheep and grew avocados. Weston, once a pilot, is now an alcoholic heavily in debt. Taylor, a land developer, is courting Ella. The refrigerator is the focal point of the action; each member of the family is obsessed with its emptiness. Emma runs away, only to return covered with mud, thrown by her horse. Taylor arrives for his luncheon date with Ella; the children treat him rudely. Wesley sets up a folding enclosure and puts a sick lamb inside. Ella and Taylor leave together, and Emma runs off again.

Wesley exits at the sounds of his father’s approach. Weston, slightly drunk, is a big man; he wears baggy pants, tennis shoes, an overcoat, and a baseball cap. Addressing the lamb, he sets a duffel and a grocery bag on the table. Wesley returns as Weston fills the refrigerator with artichokes he bought in the desert. Property he had there has proved worthless, so he decides to sell the family’s home. Telling Wesley how to treat the maggot-infested lamb, Weston dumps his laundry from the duffel onto the table for Ella to wash.

Act 2 begins with the sounds of hammering. The lights come up on Wesley, building a new door, and Emma, in a Western shirt, jodhpurs, and riding boots, making new charts for her demonstration. The...

(The entire section is 958 words.)