Harry Trewe, a retired English actor in his middle forties, now the owner and operator of the Castaways Guest House. His apparent problem as the play begins is to put together entertainment for the guests of his establishment, utilizing his own skills as an actor and the musical performing abilities of Jackson Phillip, whom he employs as an entertainer. Trewe attempts to persuade Jackson, who is black, to play the role of Robinson Crusoe to his Friday. Although most of the action is devoted to their arguments over whether this pantomime will be performed, Trewe reveals that he has many other problems. He is a victim of insomnia and boredom, which is ironic because he intentionally invested his money in the remote island of Tobago, where the guest house is situated. He speaks of suicide and of jumping off a ledge. The play’s setting (in a gazebo or summer house on the edge of a cliff) and Trewe’s personal problems (he is separated from his wife and his son is dead) suggest that his talk of suicide may be serious. Trewe’s problems as owner of the guest house and his personal problems are exacerbated by and wound up in his image of himself as a white man, which he finds is harder to leave behind than he had believed. He urges Jackson to be his equal and to play his (Trewe’s) master but nevertheless resorts to commanding the black Trinidadian whenever he becomes threatened or frustrated.
Jackson Phillip, a forty-year-old native of Trinidad who was once a calypso performer and now works in the Castaways Guest House for Harry Trewe. Having been a performer on the bigger, more frequented island, and having been in New York City, Phillip nevertheless tries futilely to operate as though he were a naïve, untutored laborer. He switches from dialect to dialect depending on whether he is alone, serving Trewe, or arguing with Trewe. His prior experiences have led him to prefer not to have an intimate friendship with a white man, and he certainly prefers not to play the role of Crusoe, as Trewe wishes him to do, but he is long-suffering. He attempts the role, both sincerely and with heavy sarcasm. He is harassed by a parrot which, Trewe explains, is only calling its previous owner, “Heinegger.” Finally, his humanity is called forth and called on when he must rescue Trewe from his despair by acting out the part of Trewe’s wife, speaking of the child’s death and the wife’s loneliness, and forcing Trewe to admit his emotions.