Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1301
‘‘India Song,’’ a blues tune is heard being played on a piano. Two disembodied female voices, voice 1 and voice 2, are heard talking to each other. The two voices indicate that Michael Richardson had been engaged to a local woman in the town of S. Thala but that he met Anne-Marie Stretter at a dance one night and fell in love with her. After meeting Anne-Marie, he abandoned his fianceé and followed Anne-Marie to Calcutta. Anne-Marie, dressed in black, lounges on a couch. Michael Richardson sits next to her, while a third man stands nearby. The voices explain that Anne-Marie died one night while in India and that Michael Richardson left the country after her death.
Anne-Marie and Michael get up from the couch and begin dancing. The two voices speak as if partially remembering a story they had heard long ago. They remember that the setting of the dancing couple is the French embassy in Calcutta, India. The street sounds of Calcutta can be heard in the distance. A beggar woman is heard, shouting and laughing. The two voices recall that the beggar woman, who is crazy, is from Burma. The voices state that the beggar woman got pregnant at the age of seventeen and was kicked out of the house by her mother. They say that she spent ten years walking across Asia, before arriving in Calcutta.
Anne-Marie enters the French embassy. She stands in the middle of the room and weeps silently. Michael Richardson enters, takes Anne-Marie in his arms, and gently lays her down on the floor. He sits down beside her and watches her sleep. The voices state that Michael’s former fiancée died after he abandoned her for Anne-Marie. A second man, the Stretters’ guest, enters and sits beside Anne-Marie. Both men lie down next to her.
The two voices begin to recount the ‘‘ballad of Anne-Marie Stretter.’’ They say that Anne-Marie was originally from Venice and that she married a French colonial official at the age of 18. She later met Ambassador Stretter and left her first husband to marry him. For the next seventeen years, she moved with Ambassador Stretter to various cities throughout Asia.
As the two voices talk about Anne-Marie, the vice-consul can be heard in the distance, crying in despair. The voices explain that, in the city of Lahore, the vice-consul shot a gun from his balcony at the lepers and beggars below him. The voices recall that Anne-Marie first attempted to commit suicide while in Chandernagor. In the distance, a glow emanates from the horizon, which the voices identity as fires burning the people who have starved to death.
The setting is a reception or party at the French embassy in Calcutta. Though fragments of conversation are overheard, none of the characters onstage throughout the play are ever seen speaking. Thus, not a single word is uttered on stage by any of the characters. The snippets of overheard conversation from the guests at the reception reveal bits and pieces of information about the main characters.
Michael Richardson, Anne-Marie’s lover, is at the reception. The French vice-consul from Lahore is there, and the guests gossip about his behavior in Lahore and of his attempted suicide. A young French attaché, newly arrived in India, is also at the party. Some guests are heard saying that they find Anne- Marie intriguing and wonder what she does with her time. Others inform one another that she frequently plays tennis with her two daughters and rides her bicycle early in the morning. Some guests note that Anne-Marie is dancing with her husband though they are not seen onstage.
The vice-consul stands in the garden, and the other guests avoid him. The ambassador is heard asking the young attaché to talk to the vice-consul. The young attaché goes out into the garden and approaches the vice-consul in a friendly way. He tells the vice-consul that no one can understand why he shot his gun off the balcony in Lahore. The voice of George Crawn is heard, introducing himself to the other guests as an old friend of Anne-Marie’s. In a private room away from the reception, Anne- Marie dances with Michael Richardson.
The beggar woman can be seen in the garden, hiding in the bushes. Anne-Marie comes out to the garden, sees the beggar woman, then goes back in. Some of the guests are heard saying that Anne- Marie takes vacations on an island in the Indian Ocean with Michael Richardson and other friends, while her husband goes hunting in Nepal. They claim that her husband knows she has lovers but does not mind because he is older than his wife, and their marriage has become a friendship. Other guests are heard stating that Anne-Marie was once a celebrated pianist in Venice, before she got married.
Anne-Marie dances with the young attaché. The vice-consul asks a woman to dance and, to everyone’s surprise, she accepts. While they are dancing, they are heard discussing leprosy and the fear of contracting leprosy while in India. The viceconsul then tells the woman that he in fact wants to get leprosy. She stops dancing and abruptly walks away.
Later, Anne-Marie dances with the vice-consul. He tells her that he loves her, but she responds that she loves only Michael Richardson. The vice-consul begs her to let him spend the night at the embassy, but she refuses. He begins shouting that he loves her and wants to stay at the embassy with her. The other guests are horrified by the shame of his display, and he is told to leave. When he refuses to leave, he is escorted off the premises. Throughout the night, he can be heard in the distance, crying in agony and calling out Anne-Marie’s name as he wanders aimlessly through the city.
Everyone has left the party except Anne-Marie, Michael Richardson, the young attaché, the Stretters’ guest, and George Crawn, who are sitting around in the reception room. The vice-consul can still be heard crying and yelling in the distance. Voice 3 and voice 4 are heard for the first time. They say that Michael Richardson left India right after Anne- Marie died and that the vice-consul resigned his post in 1938 and was never heard from again. Voices 1 and 2 can be heard, also discussing the fate of the vice-consul. The five people in the embassy doze in their chairs, as the night turns to day. While they are sleeping, voice 3 and voice 4 describe their journey by car the next day to vacation on the islands. The voices indicate that they are staying at the Prince of Wales Hotel on an island in the Indian Ocean.
Anne Marie, Michael Richardson, the young attaché, the Stretters’s guest, and George Crawn enter the lounge of the Prince of Wales Hotel, then go into the dining room for dinner. The vice-consul appears in the garden and enters the hotel, though the others do not see him. The voices indicate that the beggar woman has also come to the island. They explain that after dinner Anne-Marie said she wanted to walk along the beach by herself. Though she does not see him, the vice-consul follows behind her.
Anne-Marie, Michael Richardson, and the young attaché arrive at the French residence on the island at the same time, though they have taken different routes. The vice-consul arrives soon after, unnoticed by the others. Inside, Michael sits playing the piano. The young attaché takes Anne-Marie in his arms and gives her a passionate kiss, right in front of Michael Richardson. The vice-consul watches from the window. Michael and the young attaché both walk away from the residence, leaving Anne-Marie alone with the vice-consul. Voice 4 explains that in the morning Anne-Marie walked into the Indian Ocean, committing suicide.
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