The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Otherwise Engaged begins in silence. In his luxurious London living room, whose expensive high-fidelity equipment and shelves of records attest his love of music, Simon Hench unwraps a new record, settles on a comfortable sofa, and begins to listen to Richard Wagner’s opera Parsifal (1882). Then the interruptions begin which will make up the substance of the play.

The first intruder is the upstairs tenant. Dave, who enters uninvited, makes it clear that he has no intention of paying his rent and complains because Beth Hench was not present on the previous evening to supply food for his girlfriend. Desperate to get rid of him, Simon offers him a loan. Just as Dave is leaving, however, Simon’s brother Stephen Hench arrives, seeking sympathy because he is certain that he has failed in his application for the position of assistant headmaster at his school; perhaps, he speculates, because he has too many children, perhaps because he went to the wrong university, perhaps simply because he is a loser. When Simon mentions the possibility of his friend Jeff Golding coming by, Stephen rather proudly recounts an incident at a dinner party when he responded to one of Jeff’s insults with a physical attack on him. Unfortunately for Stephen’s sense of importance, Jeff then appears, obviously drunk, and it is clear that he does not remember Stephen at all, much less the episode at the party.

Unlike Stephen, Jeff needs no ego-building. His conversation consists of glib generalizations, boasts, and insults, delivered amid a steady stream of profanity. After Stephen leaves, indicating his anger with a slam of the door, Jeff reveals his reason for coming to Simon. He wants someone to listen to his problem: He thinks that he is in love with his former wife, Gwendoline, who is now married to a University of Cambridge don and even has a child, and whom he is meeting regularly twice a week in the rooms of a friend of the don. In mid-monologue, Jeff mentions another mistress, Davina Saunders, with whom he is angry for some reason; just then the doorbell rings and Davina appears.

Davina has followed Jeff to Simon’s place in order to express her own anger, to return her lover’s key, and in the nastiest terms to give him some news: Gwendoline’s husband has telephoned to report her attempted suicide and to threaten to assault Jeff. Throwing his drink at Davina, Jeff slams out. After Jeff’s exit, Davina admits that she has...

(The entire section is 1006 words.)