Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1266
Fay Weldon’s drama is notable more for its political content than for formal innovations. Her plays focus on women characters and their lives. They are feminist in that they explore issues that concern women and the ways that women communicate with other women and with men; however, despite raising awareness of women’s problems, they do not suggest major political change and, in fact, usually affirm the status quo. For example, one of Weldon’s major themes is the sexual politics of marriage, yet she repeatedly reaffirms that institution, ending her plays with marriage or with couples reunited after solving their problems. So while Weldon’s work contains feminist content, it is not politically radical.
Weldon’s drama contains humorous situations and dialogue, which make the plays enjoyable and the content palatable to a wide audience. Her characters speak in realistic, non-stylized language. Many plays contain scenes in which the dialogue or action concerns the ability of the characters to communicate; the words themselves become subject matter for the plays. The plays do not require elaborate sets, allowing the attention to focus on the interactions between the characters.
Permanance was Weldon’s contribution to a series of short plays by various playwrights performed and published together under the title Mixed Doubles: An Entertainment on Marriage. Weldon was the only female playwright of the nine who wrote for the production, simultaneously pointing to the barriers to women’s success as playwrights and to the mainstream quality of Weldon’s work in that her play does not stand out politically in the middle of a production written mainly by male playwrights.
The sequence begins with a play about a bride and groom and ends with one about an elderly couple contemplating headstones in a cemetary; Weldon’s play, in the middle, presents a forty-year-old man and woman vacationing for the first time without their only child. The transition to the next stage of life offers an opportunity to explore what middle age means for men and women and what the sexes want from marriage.
Throughout the play, the characters sit in a tent. The tent, which they have vacationed in together for many years, serves as a symbol for their marriage thus far. The couple’s ability to communicate is a crucial theme. Although the husband seems cold at first, not wanting to stop reading to have a conversation and being unsympathetic about his wife’s wasp sting and broken glasses, by the end he is the one who affirms the importance of the marriage. At the end of the play, he suggests a villa in Italy for their next vacation; their marriage will change to meet the needs of both.
Action Replay borrows a technique from sports-casting—the replay. However, as the scenes are replayed, lines are changed and the outcomes differ in the various versions. In one scene, the characters discuss whether what happens to them is fate or the result of turns their conversations take. The play, overall, sides with the notion that language forms reality.
The play’s time range, from 1952 to 1977, shows the changed roles of women during that period. At the beginning, the three young women sharing an apartment fit three stereotypes available to women of the early 1950’s—one is a whore, one is a plain woman interested in domestic matters and seeking marriage, and one is a beautiful woman who is more interested in a man’s money than in domesticity.
By the end, all have been married at least once and are roommates again. Weldon deploys stereotypes of women current in the late 1970’s to contrast the earlier versions of these characters. The former whore has developed an interest in mysticism, the domestic woman has become a lesbian, and the beautiful woman has changed the least. In the final scene, she is with the same man as in the opening scene of the play, again deciding whether to invite him into her apartment or not. Minimal scenery is indicated for the play, focusing the attention on the characters and on their language.
I Love My Love
I Love My Love explores the politics of marriage, a common theme of Weldon’s drama. In its presentation of spouse swapping, it raises the issues of what makes men and and women happy with their marriages as well as the effect that being with a certain partner has on the behavior of each member of a couple. The play also examines the effect of the media on marriage and sexual politics. The two couples begin with very different views of marriage: Mark and Cat have an open marriage, while Derek and Anne have a traditionally monogamous one. Their daily activities contrast as well: Cat models for her husband’s advertising work while Anne cooks, cleans, and cares for farm animals. The couples are paid to swap partners so that a journalist from the magazine Femina can write a story on them. While the questioning of values caused by the media spotlight causes each couple temporary confusion, the new ideas the couples encounter ultimately benefit them. By the end of the play, all four main characters have seen advantages in the opposing marriage styles. When the women return to their husbands, the behaviors of the two couples are much more similar than they were before. By concluding with the return of the wives to their husbands in an affirmation of marriage, the play follows the formula of traditional comedy. As in much of Weldon’s work, the message has feminist leanings but is strongly tempered by conventional elements.
The Reading Group
The Reading Group was written for a drama contest for plays about women’s lives. The committee rejected it because it contained male characters. Weldon explains in the introduction to the published script that the men could easily be written out of the play. The main action of the play takes place at a women-only reading group (book discussion club). The discussion of novelistic heroines by the characters not only offers a way to delve into the characters’ personalities but also opens a discussion of whether literature reflects on life or is an escape from it. The play focuses on the need women have for community with other women and the ease with which women communicate when men are not present. However, although the male characters could be kept offstage, they cannot be forgotten. Even when the female characters are in an all-woman group, their thoughts and conversation center on men and, especially, on marriage.
On one hand, the play presents a positive view of the community of women in that the women openly discuss their lives and concerns even though they have not met before. They see an all-women group as a way to do something enjoyable for themselves. On the other hand, the women cannot stop talking about men and cannot even agree on a novel they all want to read. In the play’s climax, it is revealed that one woman has come to the group because she is trying to lure away the husband of one of the others. The play ends with the women reunited with their appropriate men; the married man tells his wife he wants to stay with her, and the unmarried couple decide to get married. Despite the play’s traditional ending, the women characters reject traditional feminine roles: Oriole has resisted marrying her much younger boyfriend despite his pleas, and Avril has attempted to seduce her clients. In both cases, the women behave in ways conventionally defined as masculine.
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