Keep Tightly Closed in a Cool Dry Place begins in a jail cell that contains two bunks and a single bed. At the start of the play, Jaspers, Michaels, and Gregory face the audience, then combine to become a human machine. Soon they change from parts of the machine to prisoners in a cell by moving in a “military manner” to their bunks. It soon becomes clear that all three have been accused of the murder of Jaspers’s wife. The audience does not know which one has committed the murder, nor is it clear whether a murder has actually taken place at all.
Jaspers’s energies in the jail are focused on finding a way out; he is a planner. He tells Michaels (who is in low spirits) that they must not give up the struggle to escape and that they will make Gregory confess that he had lied earlier by implicating them in the crime. Gregory, who has been sleeping, is now awakened by Michaels to make the confession. The scene abruptly changes. Michaels is now a bluecoat, Jaspers General Custer, and Gregory an Indian chief who refuses to sign a treaty surrendering his lands.
Just as suddenly, the three men become themselves again. Jaspers is annoyed with Michaels for having hired an amateur such as Gregory to kill his wife. He is still keen, however, to execute his plan of making Gregory sign a confession pleading his sole involvement in the crime. Gregory, who is asleep and evidently in the middle of a sex dream, is again awakened by Michaels. In an attempt to humiliate him, both Jaspers and Michaels ask Gregory to share his dream with them. At first Gregory hesitates, but he soon proceeds to narrate it. The dream centers on his brutal rape of a girl in a telephone booth soon after she gets off a subway. As he narrates the dream, Gregory becomes sexually excited and is unable to complete his story. Annoyed, Jaspers and Michaels climb back into their bunks. The dream makes Gregory recall a childhood incident, which he narrates to the audience. The hissing of a snake in Gregory’s story slowly merges with the noise of a machine, as Jaspers and Michaels join him to act again as a human machine.
With the three characters springing back to their beds, the scene changes. Jaspers soon leaps...
(The entire section is 906 words.)