The Play

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1119

Plenty begins in a room that has been stripped bare, like the prostrate, bloody, naked man who lies sleeping on a mattress. Susan sits smoking on a packing case as Alice enters and discusses the cold climate, which she relates to the “loveless English,” thereby callously acknowledging the existence of Raymond. From their conversation the audience learns that there has been a fight between Susan and her husband Raymond and that Susan is leaving him and giving their house to Alice, who will use it as a home for unwed mothers.

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The second scene shifts abruptly from 1962 London to 1943 France, where Susan and Lazar, two British undercover agents, have met at night in a field—Lazar has just parachuted into France and awaits a “drop” from an airplane. Despite the interference of the well-intentioned French Underground, the two secure the package. The distraught Susan loses her composure, declares that she does not want to die, like Tony, at Buchenwald, and embraces Lazar. Lazar asks her the French term for “mackerel sky,” un ciel pommele (the phrase is repeated during their abortive reunion in scene 11); and while nothing romantic happens onstage, the excitement and vitality of this scene suggests the offstage sexual relationship that sustains Susan in the postwar years of torpor and mediocrity.

The following lengthy scene, which occurs in 1947 Brussels, introduces Sir Leonard Darwin, Raymond’s superior in the British Foreign Service. Tony, with whom Susan has been touring Europe, has died abruptly, and it is Raymond’s task to make the necessary arrangements. Since Tony has a wife back in England, Raymond’s job is a bit complicated, and he has to make a conscious decision to lie. (Raymond’s initial assistance leads to further concessions and the eventual ruination of his diplomatic career.) This scene also establishes Susan’s distinction between “them,” the “fools . . . who stayed behind,” and “us,” “those of us who went through this kind of war” in France. Susan’s impatience and intolerance is at odds with Darwin’s naïve, evolutionary optimism about European reconstruction: “Ideals. Marvellous. Marvellous time to be alive in Europe.”

Scene 4 begins with a radio announcer’s apt comments about a “reconstructed” musical selection and then dramatizes the extent to which Susan’s obsession with the past dominates her life. As Raymond sleeps, a visual reminder of Scene 1, Susan and Alice, an aspiring writer, discuss Susan’s problems with her amorous boss and the status of her affair with Raymond, who has been commuting from Brussels on weekends. Raymond wakes; as he speaks of “acclimatizing” and becoming rich, Susan cleans her gun (Alice says that she is “fondling” it), suggesting that she, like Darwin, “has slight problems of adjustment to the modern age.” Susan’s testiness and Raymond’s resentment at her obscene criticisms of the Foreign Service result in a battle between people from different worlds. He asks, “But what other world do I have?” After a pause, Susan states, “I think of France more than I tell you.” Even at this early stage of their relationship Raymond has learned that “when you [Susan] talk longingly about the war . . . some deception usually follows.” Alice concludes the scene with a reference to “peace and plenty.”

In scenes 5 and 6 Susan, having decided to have a child, secures the services of Mick, a hustling East Ender who cannot deal with being sexually used by a woman, particularly since his failure reflects on his manhood. Time again becomes the focus as Mick, the jazz “revivalist,” declares that for him “it all stops in 1919,” and Susan states, “England can’t be like this forever.” Scene 5 ends, fittingly, with Susan, who is about to start her affair with Mick,...

(The entire section contains 3756 words.)

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