Act I Summary

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 500

When the curtain rises, the two adult children of the Bliss household are relaxing in the hall (main living room) of the Bliss family country home. The siblings’ conversation reveals that the daughter, Sorel, wishes their family were more normal. She expresses a desire to change, but her brother, Simon, says it is fine to be different. They both observe that their mother, who has recently retired from a successful acting career, has been very restless. They speculate that she might return to the theater. Sorel also announces that she has invited a diplomatist named Richard Greatham down for the weekend.

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Their mother, Judith, enters from the garden and says she hopes the housekeeper Clara has prepared the Japanese Room for her guest. The ensuing dialogue reveals that each family member has invited someone for the weekend and they all expected their guests to sleep in that same room. Irritated, each criticizes the others’ prospective visitors. David—the father and Judith’s husband— enters the room in the midst of this argument. He has come down from his study where he has been writing his latest novel. He casually tells everyone that he invited a young woman for the weekend to observe her behavior, and then heads back upstairs before anyone can say anything.

After David exits, Judith, Sorel, and Simon continue complaining about how awful the weekend is going to be. Soon, however, Judith announces that she has decided to return to the stage and revive one of her most successful plays, Love’s Whirlwind. Recollecting favorite passages from this drama, she prompts the children to join her in acting out a scene that begins with the cue ‘‘Is this a game?’’ Their reenactment is interrupted when the doorbell rings.

Clara opens the door and lets in Sandy Tyrell, the athletic amateur boxer invited by Judith. The children go upstairs and Sandy and Judith’s brief conversation reveals his infatuation with her. The doorbell rings again. This time, Clara admits Simon’s guest, Myra Arundel, who greets Judith familiarly before Judith takes Sandy away, leaving the latest arrival to her own devices. Myra strolls around looking very much at home until Simon rushes in. He tries to kiss Myra, but she pushes him away. She continues to rebuff his advances as he expresses his adoration for her.

The bell rings once more, and Clara opens the door for Richard Greatham and Jackie Coryton. Richard asks for Sorel, and Clara goes in search of her. Simon immediately drags Myra outside leaving Richard and Jackie alone to make awkward smalltalk until Sorel appears. She sends Jackie up to find David, then sits down with Richard, who expresses his admiration for her unconventionality while she offers similar praise of his propriety.

Clara enters with tea. Simon, Myra, David, and Jackie rejoin Richard and Sorel. The visitors all attempt to begin some polite conversation, but they keep starting sentences at the same time and eventually give up. The scene ends in dead silence.

Act II Summary

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 738

After dinner that night all eight main characters are in the hall talking at once, trying to choose a game to play. They decide on ‘‘Adverbs,’’ which involves one person leaving the room while the rest choose an adverb. Then the person re-enters and tries to guess the word based on watching the others perform actions in the manner of that adverb. The shouted half-explanations of this enterprise confuse Jackie, but the Blisses begin the game anyway. Sorel goes out. The rest of the group argues over word selection. Richard proposes ‘‘winsomely,’’ David ‘‘drearily,’’ Judith ‘‘saucily,’’ and Myra— under her breath—‘‘rudely.’’ Jackie, who still does not understand the game, suggests ‘‘appendicitis.’’

Judith agrees with Richard that ‘‘winsomely’’ is best and calls Sorel back into the room. Judith performs the first action, handing a flower to Richard in a manner she considers winsome. Myra then attempts to do the next action but is criticized by Judith. They move on to Richard, but Judith stops him midway through because she does not think he is performing well either—and it turns out he had been acting out the wrong adverb. Finally, it is Jackie’s turn but she refuses to do anything. Her shy protestations are so sweet and innocent, however, that Sorel guesses the word just as everyone starts yelling at each other. The game breaks up. Simon grabs Jackie’s hand and pulls her out in the garden; Sorel drags Sandy into the library; and David takes Myra outside.

Left alone with Richard, Judith begins flirting, inducing him to lean forward and kiss her. She jumps back instantly and dramatically announces that David must be told everything. Confused, Richard listens to Judith go on about how heartbroken poor David will be that she is leaving him to be with her new love (the unwitting Richard). The diplomat tries to protest, but she sends him out into the garden, never letting him finish a sentence.

Judith then opens the library door and stands looking shocked as Sorel and Sandy emerge guiltily, suggesting they have been caught kissing. Switching roles, Judith now loudly laments what a fool she has been. Sorel initially tries to say that ‘‘it was nothing’’ but quickly gives up on this approach and begins playing along, claiming she and Sandy love each other. This allows Judith to nobly ‘‘give’’ Sandy to her daughter before exiting. Once her mother is gone, Sorel clarifies the situation for the befuddled young man, explaining that she knows they do not love each other but she had just said so because ‘‘one always plays up to mother in this house; it’s sort of an unwritten law.’’

Sandy and Sorel exit while Myra and David enter talking about the plot of David’s latest novel. As their conversation progresses, Myra confesses that she accepted the weekend invitation in order to meet David because she admires his books. David says that he writes bad novels and wonders if Myra has an ulterior motive in complimenting his work. She then expresses her affection for him, and he respond by asking first whether they should elope and then whether she wants him to make love to her. Offended, she pulls away but is drawn back when he takes her hand and says they can still ‘‘have a nice little intrigue.’’ He grabs and kisses her; she resists but then gives in. At this moment, Judith appears and sees them. She immediately launches into the role of wronged wife. David starts out saying Judith is speaking nonsense, but then he begins to play his expected part. Interrupting Myra’s protests, he says he and Myra love each other and commends his wife’s bravery in the difficult situation.

Just as David and Judith shake hands, Simon rushes in announcing excitedly that he and Jackie are engaged. This news brings Sorel and Simon out of the library and prompts Judith to shift roles again, now acting the part of the bereaved mother anticipating an empty nest. As Jackie tries to deny the engagement, Myra breaks in with a denunciation of the whole family’s theatricality. Everyone talks at once as Richard enters and unsuspectingly asks, ‘‘Is this a game?’’ Recognizing the cue, Judith launches into the scene she and the children enacted earlier. Simon and Sorel catch on immediately and speak the appropriate lines. David starts laughing. The four visitors stand watching in absolute bewilderment.

Act III Summary

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 304

Act III opens the following morning. A breakfast table has been set up in the hall and Sandy enters, sits and begins eating. He jumps at every sound, however, and when he hears someone approaching he runs into the library. Jackie then enters, takes some food, sits down, and starts to cry. Sandy comes out and the two have a conversation about how uncomfortable they were the night before and how crazy the Blisses are. When they hear people approaching, they both go into the library. Myra and Richard now enter and help themselves to breakfast. Their conversation echoes that of Sandy and Jackie, who subsequently emerge from the library. The entire group decides they are going to return to London. Sandy agrees to drive them in his car. They all go upstairs to collect their things.

Judith comes down next, asks Clara for the papers and begins reading aloud the descriptions of herself in the gossip columns. Sorel and Simon enter soon thereafter, followed by David who wants to read them the last chapter of his novel. He begins by describing how his main character drives down one street in Paris to get to a particular plaza. Judith immediately interrupts to say he has the streets wrong and that the one he names does not go where he says it does. This sparks another family argument with everyone talking at once about what streets go where in Paris. As they continue to debate, the four visitors tip-toe down the stairs and out the door. The Blisses only notice their fleeing guests when they hear the door slam. Then after a momentary pause to comment on the guests’ rude mode of departure, the Blisses return to their conversation. Judith makes the final statement of the play, announcing she will indeed return to the stage.

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Themes