Four Baboons Adoring the Sun Summary
by John Guare

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Four Baboons Adoring the Sun Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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The questioning of the rewards of success in the lives of Ouisa and Flan Kittredge in Six Degrees of Separation are again enacted in Four Baboons Adoring the Sun. Here, however, the couple—Penny and Philip McKenzie—and their children (ranging in age from thirteen to seven) are younger. Philip has left his successful “empire” as an archaeology professor at a California university, and Penny has severed her typical suburban existence “off Exit 4 of the Connecticut Turnpike” as wife of a congressman. Having realized the rewards of the American Dream, both need, more than anything, change and love, and they wish the same for their children.

In Philip’s words, there are two universes—Universe A, which is “all facts and reasons and explanations,” and Universe B, the universe of childhood, which is essentially mythic. It is this mythic level to which the play aspires. In no other play has Guare so richly invested the style and symbols of myth; for example, the family’s children are given mythic names (the most important of which is Wayne’s appellation of Icarus). The mythical ambience is created immediately with the appearance of Eros, Guare’s version of the Greek chorus. As background to the action, Eros is onstage throughout, chanting aspirations and forebodings in the tradition of the chorus. Beyond Eros, there is a replica of a four-thousand-year-old granite Egyptian sculpture of four baboons who have stared at the sun until they are blinded. Wayne (Icarus), in a forbidden love with his new sister Halcy, feels trapped in a labyrinth his father has created. He climbs a nearby mountain and falls to his death.

The exotic myth imagery in the play blends with the poetically framed dialogue, in which realistic American speech is stylized in the manner of the stichomythia of classical drama. Realism and myth are one as the eldest children question the parents in incantatory lines:Wayne: Did you hate Mom? Halcy: Did you hate Dad? Penny: No. Philip: Yes.

The antiphonal nature of the questions and responses in which parents and children participate transforms the play into a ritual without diluting the realism of their respective situations. The play ends with Eros chanting about choices he offers and with parents and children choosing their futures. Penny, like Philip’s Wayne, chooses to “leap into space.” Philip, like Penny’s Halcy, chooses not to leap, and he will return to his university.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Cohn, Ruby. New American Dramatists: 1960-1990. 2d ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991.


(The entire section is 600 words.)