Ezra Pound, the internationally recognized poet. During the thirteen-year span of the play’s action, which begins when he is sixty years old, he becomes increasingly irrational and, eventually, unhinged. He is trapped in a prison that represents both his real prison (and, later, madhouse) and the limitations of a practical and political world on the imagination of a genius poet. His expansive temperament and misguided trust in Benito Mussolini (whose country he had adopted), together with his love of classical Roman culture, collide with the political realities of World War II, causing him to broadcast anti-Semitic sentiments in support of the Axis war effort. He relives his arrest, trial, and acquittal (on grounds of insanity). The other characters are figments of his deranged mind, visiting him in moments of decreasing lucidity, from his imprisonment in Italy as a traitor to the United States to his release from an American insane asylum.
Antonio Vivaldi, the eighteenth century composer. In Ezra’s imagination, Vivaldi is a companion to Mussolini. Musical but taken by dance-hall ditties of the war era, he represents a purer, more artistically viable time that, although Ezra fails to realize it, passed away long ago. His music “The Four Seasons” underscores the action. The actor playing the role transforms himself into other characters, including Amprim, the interrogator, and several comic and musical figures from the period.
Benito Mussolini, called Il Duce, the dictator of Italy during World War II. Mussolini is portrayed as personal, almost chummy, his image filtered through Ezra’s fantasies into a playful, childish companion dedicated to returning Italy to its Golden Age. He begins the play dead, hanging upside down with his mistress, but addresses Ezra and takes on, with Vivaldi, several comic and musical characters such as Abbott and Costello and the Andrews Sisters.
Claretta Petacci, Mussolini’s mistress, an exotic seductress who also transforms herself into Ezra’s lover, Olga, and their child, Mary. She represents young sexual females in the lives of Ezra and Mussolini.
Dorothy Pound, Ezra’s wife. Solicitous and forgiving, she champions her husband against his detractors. She represents the faithful, unquestioning love of the mother and wife, and she is with Ezra at the play’s end.