Henry, a successful playwright in his forties for whom writing about love is difficult. His play, A House of Cards, has just opened. Its first act is the first act of The Real Thing. Henry, a partially autobiographical character, changes in the course of the play as he is educated in what love is by the three women in his life: his former wife, his current wife, and his daughter. Acknowledging to his precocious teenage daughter the verity of her perception of him as an ironist in public and a prig in private, he reluctantly accepts modern attitudes toward marriage as the result of his wife’s affairs and his daughter’s colorfully honest appraisal of him. As a husband, he takes his wives for granted and leaves them with unfulfilled needs. His belief in the artist’s removal from personal emotions and political causes creates tensions with Annie, as it had with his first wife. As an artist, he believes in the innocence, neutrality, and precision of words as the means for building “bridges across incomprehension and chaos” and regards his short-lived rival in love, Brodie, as a writer of rubbish. Even so, he finally admits that in love, unlike art, “dignified cuckoldry, although difficult, can be done.”
Annie, Henry’s second wife, a twenty-five-year-old actress and activist in political marches. She is Henry’s mistress at the start of the play. Like her predecessor, Charlotte, in Henry’s real life, she takes lovers and argues with Henry about her needs. Her roles bring her into close contact with Billy, another actor, and her activism in liberal movements involves her with a politically committed dramatist, Brodie, who is boorish and...
(The entire section is 705 words.)