As the play begins, Fanny and Gardner Church have sold their Boston town house and will move in a week to their much smaller cottage on Cape Cod. Their daughter Mags, whose arrival from New York they eagerly await, plans to paint their portrait and help them pack. When she arrives she tells them about her success as an artist. Although they express their delight, they do so with their mouths full of crackers, and they continue to be absorbed in eating crackers as Mags goes on about her success. Later Mags is dismissive when Fanny tells her how impossible Gardner is becoming in his mental wanderings. Scene 1 ends with Fanny and Gardner playfully practicing poses for their portrait by making silly faces.
In scene 2 Mags nails up a crimson tablecloth as a portrait backdrop, oblivious to her mother’s protests about the damage she is doing. Her parents clown by miming Grant Wood’s painting American Gothic, and Mags complains they do not take her seriously. She talks about her first group show, at which her mother called attention to herself and disparaged her daughter’s paintings in front of an important art critic. While Mags relates this humorous story of her embarrassment and exasperation, her parents continue to amuse themselves by posing as Michelangelo’s sculpture Pietà, and his fresco The Creation of Adam.
Scene 3 ends on a grimmer note. Mags reminds her parents that at age nine she was banished from the dinner table for playing with her food. Oblivious to her mother’s requests to stop her account, she explains that, sent to her room with a tray, she would flush the food down the toilet and melt crayons on the radiator. Every week she would use her allowance to...
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