Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 479
Gilda, who is about thirty years old. She is Ernest’s wife and the mistress of both Otto and Leo. Gilda is attracted to Otto, an unsuccessful painter, and lives with him in his Paris studio, hoping to further his career. Although Gilda does not wish to marry, claiming that marriage provides nothing she wants, she is humiliated by the way in which feminine impulses sway her life. When Leo returns from New York as a successful playwright, Gilda deserts Otto and goes to live with Leo in London. After eighteen months with Leo, however, Gilda is still unhappy. She distrusts (and perhaps envies) Leo’s continuing success and dislikes the social life it entails. She also thinks that success has affected the quality of Leo’s work, a criticism he resents. While he is away, Otto reappears, and Gilda sleeps with him. After leaving Otto and marrying Ernest, Gilda not only has tired of fulfilling her desire for artistic success via men but also has come to believe that she deluded herself into thinking she contributed anything to her lovers’ creative lives.
Leo, a playwright, Gilda’s lover and a friend of Otto and Ernest. Leo is offended that Gilda first chose Otto, and his taking Gilda away has an element of revenge in it. He enjoys his success and refuses to believe that starving in a garret is a prerequisite for producing effective art. When Gilda leaves, however, he is shattered and turns to Otto. They depend on each other for consolation and then travel together and reclaim Gilda together.
Otto, a painter, Gilda’s lover and a friend of Leo and Ernest. Otto is furious that Leo and Gilda have betrayed him but, after being apart from them, he realizes that he misses his friends too much to bear a grudge. He, like Leo, suffers from Gilda’s departure and consoles himself by going on a cruise with Leo. He forms part of the ménage à trois when all three return to Paris at the end of the play.
Ernest, an art dealer, Gilda’s husband and a friend of Otto and Leo. Apparently he is American. Early in the play, he brings news of Leo’s success and scolds Gilda for the untidiness of her emotional life. Later, he listens to her complaints about feeling superfluous and informs her that he has bought a penthouse in New York City and is intending to settle down. Gilda leaves with him, and they are subsequently married. Ernest is resentful when Gilda later leaves him to return to her lovers, either because she needs them to need her or because all of them fail to resist their impulses. Ernest is made to look foolish when he tries to retain his wife, and all three artists are laughing at him as the curtain goes down.