Simon Hench, a successful, middle-aged publisher who is trying throughout the play to listen to a new recording of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal while his wife is out of town. Simon is the central figure, toward whom all the characters gravitate. He is interrupted by the romantic and career problems of his student lodger, his brother, his friend Jeff, Jeff’s girlfriend, an old schoolmate, and finally his wife, Beth. Each interruption casts a different light on Simon through his relationships with the others. At first, Simon seems a paragon of virtue and sanity, but by the end of the play he is clearly a participant in, and perhaps even a cause of, the troubles of others. Simon is left with his estranged wife’s pregnancy (possibly by another man), his lodger’s friends moving in, his brother’s spite, and the knowledge of his possible guilt in a suicide. He returns to his Parsifal as the play ends.
Dave, Simon’s loutish lodger, a university student. Dave is thickheaded and aggressively rude. He fails to pay his absurdly cheap rent and instead cadges spending money and drinks from Simon, who tolerates him as a salve to his social conscience. At the end of the play, Dave has moved a putative girlfriend and her male friend into the apartment, just to avenge himself on Simon. Dave’s role is that of a crude annoyance to Simon’s imperturbability.
Stephen Hench, Simon’s older brother, a self-described “middle-aged public school teacher with five children . . . [and] a bit of a failure.” Stephen complains that he will be passed over for a position as assistant headmaster at his school, revealing an insecurity about himself. Later in the play, he reveals his envy of his brother. Finally, he reveals that Simon’s wife is having an affair with a man Simon holds in contempt. Initially, Simon’s relationship to his brother seems kindly tolerant; by the end, it is suspected that Stephen’s...
(The entire section is 825 words.)