Shortly before the end of act 1, Charlie says that “love turned upside down for all that.” This statement might be taken as the motto of the play; it is not a sentimental play. The love here is truly turned upside down: petty, vexing, and often harmful. In the end, however, the play is generous to its characters. It is Charlie’s wisdom that, without forgetting his resentment and frustration, he can see this love for what it is.
Leonard achieved his early successes with adaptations of James Joyce’s early works, Dublin One (pr. 1963), from Dubliners (1914), and Stephen D (pr., pb. 1962), from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Stephen Hero (1944). Joyce’s works certainly had an influence on Leonard’s. As much as Dubliners, this play seems content with its own details, concerned first with the lives of its characters and the events that illuminate them. There is much description and little editorial opinion here. As with Joyce, there often seem to be clues to insights and meanings behind the events shown, but the emphasis is always on accurate depiction and on description. Joyce’s ever-present concerns, the character of Irish life and the narrowness that it forces on Irish men and women, are here too. Speculation on the themes and unifying meanings behind the work must be made cautiously, keeping in mind the character of the play.
Themes of the old and the new are constant. Oliver, superficial and materialistic, represents the new Ireland in his way, as Charlie, in his sophistication, does in...
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