Rocket to the Moon

by Clifford Odets
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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1341

Act 1
The first act of Rocket to the Moon opens with an argument between Ben Stark and his wife, Belle. Stark wishes to develop his dental practice by moving his offices to a more affluent part of town and specializing in orthodontics. His father-in-law, a retired businessman, has offered to provide Stark with money for the move. However Belle—who hates her father—wants Stark to refuse his offer. While Belle sees her desire for Stark to stay where he is as a practical one, Stark believes that his wife is trying to limit his aspirations. Despite these misgivings, Stark gives in to Belle and agrees not to move.

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Stark’s colleague, Dr. Cooper, enters during this conversation to get a drink of water from the cooler. His presence reminds Belle that Cooper, who rents his office from Stark, owes four month’s rent. Belle views Stark’s refusal to press Cooper for the money as weakness, and criticizes him for it. Belle tells Stark that she has been feeling depressed all morning and reminds him that it is the anniversary of the death of their son, who died during childbirth. At this point the play’s central female character, Stark’s secretary Cleo, enters and is immediately criticized by Stark (who is trying to mollify his wife) for taking a two-hour lunch break. When Dr. Cooper re-enters the waiting room, Belle demands that he pay Stark the money he is owed and accuses Cooper of drunkenness. Cooper tells Belle that he cannot even afford to pay the medical bills for his son, who recently broke his arm. Belle looks on Cooper more sympathetically and tells him to take another month before paying off his debts.

As Belle leaves the office, her father, Prince, enters. Prince sees Cleo and asks her who she is. This question prompts a long conversation between the two during which Cleo tells Prince that she does not like Belle. Prince is clearly attracted to Cleo and makes a number of attempts to impress her. Prince comes across as an energetic, playful, and intelligent man. Stark returns to the room and watches the two silently for a moment before Prince notices that he has returned. Stark tells Prince that he is rejecting his offer of financial help. Prince blames Belle for this decision, and the two men talk at great length about the effects of marriage on a man. Prince describes his own feelings about marriage, telling Stark that if he had been single he might have become a great actor. After describing his own position, Prince criticizes Stark for letting Belle run his life and tells him that he should have an affair with Cleo. Stark laughs at Prince, but his mood abruptly changes to one of melancholy as the older man leaves.

As Stark is contemplating the conversation with his father-in-law, Frenchy enters and the two begin a conversation that starts out where Stark’s conversation with Prince had left off. Stark tells Frenchy that he has slept through his marriage. Frenchy, who is a bachelor, cannot really comprehend Stark’s concerns and is glad when Dr. Cooper enters the room and joins the conversation. Cooper tells Stark that Belle confronted him about his debts. Stark confirms that he is not going to throw Cooper out despite Belle’s wishes. As their conversation winds down, Cleo comes back from her errand and Cooper leaves. Stark and Cleo are left alone and Stark, prompted by his conversation with Prince, begins to see her in a different light.

Act 2, Scene 1
Act 2 takes place about a month after act 1. The first scene opens with Stark leafing through a volume of Shakespeare and reminiscing about his youth. Cleo is very solicitous of Stark, bringing him a glass of water and giving him matches to re-light his pipe. Frenchy, also in the room, notices this and makes some pointed remarks about the effect of the heat on people’s sex lives. Cleo takes offence at Frenchy’s remarks, and the two begin to argue while Stark looks on. Once Frenchy leaves, Cleo and Stark discuss Stark’s marriage to Belle, and Cleo questions Belle’s treatment of Stark. Cleo tells Stark that she does not really need her job because her parents are wealthy. The two discuss one of Stark’s patients, Willy Wax, a choreographer whom Cleo wishes to meet. Stark and Cleo’s conversation is interrupted by a phone call from Belle and the later entrance of Prince, who is late for a dental appointment with Stark. Prince asks Cleo and Stark how their affair is going. After Cleo denies they are having one, Prince asks her out on a date. Stark expresses his jealousy and accuses Cleo of lying about her friends and her parents. Cleo admits that she has been lying and tells Stark that she loves him. Immediately after Cleo’s declaration of love, Cooper interrupts their conversation. Cooper is distraught about his life and tells Stark that he is going to sell his blood to make enough money to pay him back. The scene ends with Cleo confessing her love for Stark and the two embracing passionately.

Act 2, Scene 2
Scene 2 begins with an argument between Cleo and Stark about Cleo’s decision to accept Willy Wax’s invitation to lunch. As they argue, Prince calls on the phone and asks Cleo out on a date (which she refuses). Frenchy enters and warns Cleo not to toy with Stark’s affections. Cleo leaves for lunch with Wax, after an argument with Stark about the nature of their affair. Cleo is upset that Stark wants to keep their affair a secret and never takes her out in public. While Cleo is at lunch with Wax, Belle enters the office and argues with Stark. She demands that Stark fire Cleo and hire her, Belle, instead. When Stark refuses to fire Cleo, Belle accuses him of conducting an affair with Cleo and locks herself in his dental office. While Stark is trying to persuade her to come out, Cooper enters and gives Stark a check for thirty dollars, which he has earned by selling his blood. Belle leaves in disgust, telling Stark that he is an actor. Cooper leaves shortly thereafter, and Cleo returns from her lunch, followed by Willy Wax. Wax tells Stark that Cleo must be in love with him. The scene ends with Cleo and Stark in a passionate embrace.

Act 3
Act 3 begins with Belle and Stark arguing about their marriage. Belle accuses Stark of having an affair with Cleo. After Stark admits his infidelity, Belle tries to get him to admit that he does not love Cleo and that this was an affair of convenience. Belle tells Stark that if he commits himself to their marriage, she will change her ways. Stark cannot choose between Cleo and Belle. Belle tells him that she is going to leave him. Once Belle leaves, Frenchy enters. After a long conversation about love and marriage, he tries to help Stark sort out his problems. The entrance of Prince interrupts Frenchy’s efforts. Prince tells Stark that he intends to ask Cleo to marry him. The two men argue, furious with each other. Cleo returns, and she and Stark discuss their affair and profess their love for each other. Stark wants Cleo to understand the situation he is in and asks her to have patience with him. At this moment, Prince asks Cleo to marry him, telling her that he can provide her with security. Stark realizes that he cannot give Cleo what she needs and ends their affair. Cleo refuses Prince’s marriage offer and tells both men that she has gained a degree of maturity while working for Stark and can now go out into the world. Once Cleo leaves, Stark and Prince reconcile their differences. Stark tells Prince that he has also gained a new perspective on life. Prince leaves after asking Stark to return to his wife. The act ends with the exit of Stark.

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