Robert E. Sherwood’s Idiot’s Delight takes place at a resort in the Italian Alps at an undetermined time, soon before the start of World War II. In the play, passengers on a train bound for Switzerland are prevented from leaving the country because war is going to break out. Tensions are high, as nobody, including the local authorities, knows which country or countries will attack which. The interesting characters who are detained at the hotel include a German doctor who is close to finding a cure for cancer; a British couple on their honeymoon; a French Communist who is returning from an international labor conference; a mysterious Russian countess and her companion, an arms merchant who has inside knowledge about when the fighting will begin; and a company of American showgirls, led by a manager who is a seasoned show business professional and confidence man.
The situation described in the play is fictional— Sherwood describes World War II starting with Italian planes bombing Paris, though in fact the war did not begin until three years after the play was produced, with Germany’s invasion of Poland. Still, the situation that he concocted for this play puts audiences right into the difficult situation in Europe in the thirties, when war really was expected at any moment. The play also includes performances of singing and dancing and a plot line about long-lost lovers reuniting at the final moments of their lives. Sherwood won his first Pulitzer Prize for drama for Idiot’s Delight in 1936.