The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

In their twenty-fifth year of married life, James and Eleanor Croxley undergo what in contemporary jargon is glibly referred to as a mid-life crisis. Both of their children, now grown, have left home, and both James and Eleanor are, to all appearances, successful in their respective professions—restorer of modern religious art and musician—and comfortable in the solidity of their marriage. The catalyst for the action of the play is the death of a friend, Albert, who, having left his wife, Agnes, had been living with Kate. Younger even than one of the Croxley daughters, Kate loses no time in forming a liaison with James. The action of the play consists of the slow change from what at first appears to be an innocent diversion to a complex, all-consuming passion which, feeding on itself, eventually leaves the marriage intact but hollow. In the last scene, a daughter and her husband join James and Eleanor for the beginning of Christmas festivities; the audience is left with the devastating contrast between appearance and reality, even as guests arrive and all wish one another “Happy Christmas.” James and Eleanor perfunctorily perform their duties as host and hostess, although their alter egos, Jim and Nell, are at total variance with the appearance of things.

The play opens with James and Eleanor entertaining Kate, sometime after the funeral of Albert, a “crusading editor,” as Agnes describes him. Comfortable with themselves, neither James nor Eleanor suspects Kate’s admiration for James, even though she has expressed it to Eleanor, with the object of having Eleanor relay that bit of information to James. James yawns repeatedly, and Kate apologizes for keeping her hosts up. As Kate...

(The entire section is 697 words.)