James Croxley, age fifty, a restorer of damaged paintings. He has been married to Eleanor for twenty-five years and is the father of their two daughters, now grown and not living with the Croxleys. Restoring modern religious paintings in a studio in his home, he has been enjoying a settled life. Unsuspectingly, he is seduced into a liaison by Kate. The passion long gone from his ritual sex with Eleanor and gone as well from his work, he sacrifices the marital and cultural civility into which his and Eleanor’s life has matured for his passion for Kate. The staid James is slowly overtaken by his alter ego, Jim, so that even at the end, in his workshop, Jim is furtively reading one letter and addressing another.
Eleanor Croxley, James’s wife, a forty-five-year-old music teacher and choral singer. With him, she has led a fulfilled family and professional life, in sharp contrast with her provincial upbringing, which was void of the satisfactions she has enjoyed in her marriage and in London. In her youth, the only outlet for her passion, reminiscent of Emma Bovary (in Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, English translation, 1886), was the church and, particularly, the music of the church. At first, she refuses to believe that James has been unfaithful, and even when she is convinced, she attempts to deal with the midlife crisis in a civilized fashion. Her generation (and James’s) falls victim to the machinations of the new generation of “Kates” in the 1980’s.
Jim, the alter ego of James. As a double of the major male character, Jim has lain dormant, and when James least suspects any change in his comfortable existence, he becomes vulnerable to Kate’s very modern and well-practiced charms. Ego and alter ego debate with each other and, at times, with either Eleanor or her double, Nell. In the climactic moment of the play, all four engage in a chorus of accusations and counter-accusations. As doubles, Jim and Nell provide a novel and intriguing twist to the play.
Nell, the alter ego of Eleanor. As a character, she does not emerge as early as does Jim, because Eleanor is much too civilized and modern to give credence to suspicious evidence or to warnings from her friend, Agnes. When she does emerge, Nell slowly becomes desperate enough to swallow a bottle of pills. Her illusions about the freedom she and James would enjoy when the children left home are shattered, and she has nothing in their place. Ironically, it is during a radio broadcast of the “St. Matthew Passion” (in which Eleanor sings) that Jim and Kate indulge in passionate sex. James’s sexual rituals with Eleanor, on the other hand, are accompanied by music from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s last work, the Requiem.
Kate, a twenty-five-year-old photographer, James’s mistress, and the former mistress of Albert, Agnes’ deceased husband. A femme fatale, she is an experienced husband snatcher. Having attended the funeral of her lover, Albert, Kate is ready to take on the unsuspecting James. Without interruption, her next affair begins even as the current one has just ended.
Agnes, a widow, fifty years old, whose husband, Albert, had left her for Kate. She still harbors a hatred of Kate and warns Eleanor of Kate’s designs on James. At first, Eleanor (and even James himself) regards Kate’s overtures as unimportant or, at worst, a temporary diversion. Agnes, who has access to a key to the flat Albert and Kate had shared, obtains a letter that James wrote to Kate. In a cleverly orchestrated set of simultaneous scenes, Agnes, over tea with Eleanor, shows the latter James’s letter to Kate. For the first time, Nell, dressed as Eleanor, slips in between them, even as Jim is seen writing that letter.