The Play

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1030

On a bright sunlit beach, picnic finished, Nancy paints while Charlie relaxes on a blanket. A jet airplane approaches, continuing loudly overhead and then fading away. Nancy comments on the noise of airplanes; Charlie predicts their crash into the dunes one day. He doubts that they do any good.

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Relaxing again, the couple begins what appears to be an ongoing discussion. Retired and well-off, they ponder how they will spend the days ahead now that their careers and children are behind them. With nothing to tie them to any one place, Nancy suggests that they spend the time traveling around the world from beach to beach. At first barely listening, Charlie finally asserts that he does not want to do anything; he has earned a little rest. Is that what their life together adds up to, Nancy wonders, to end as they began, infants with pacifiers, milk, and sleep? Nancy, it seems, will not settle for retirement farms; life is not over for her.

Again the sound of the jet intrudes, becoming deafening as it crosses overhead. The dialogue that follows is exactly like that at the opening. After a bit, as Nancy begins to paint, Charles shares a memory of how, when he was twelve or thirteen, he liked to find a protected cove near his family’s summer place; taking two large stones to weight himself down, he would sink to the bottom to sit on the sand long enough to stop feeling like an intruder. Excitedly, Nancy urges him to try it now, to go down to the edge of the beach and “be young again,” but Charlie firmly refuses. They should still be having a good life, Nancy feels, rather than being content with memories of the good life they have had.

The climax of act 1 occurs when two sea creatures, Leslie and Sarah, appear atop the dune. Suddenly Charlie, sensing something behind him, turns; he is aghast and immediately defensive. Nancy, however, is fascinated with what they see: human-sized green lizards with humanoid arms and legs and large saurian tails. When Leslie picks up a large stick and brandishes it overhead, Charlie thinks that the end is near, but at this moment another jet crosses overhead, louder and lower than before. Frozen with fear, the amphibians dive behind the sand dune. While they are out of sight, Charlie decides that the only possible explanation for what they have just seen is that he and Nancy are dead, casualties of the spoiled liver paste they ate for lunch. When the lizards reappear, Nancy rolls onto her back, assuming the position of submission that she has seen in animals, and begs Charlie to follow suit. Hesitating only a moment, Charlie assumes the position, too. “Now, Charlie, smile! And mean it!” she urges as act 1 ends.

When act 2 opens, neither couple has moved. The sea creatures now begin to sniff, touch, and poke the humans while discussing the situation—in English. Guardedly, Leslie addresses Charlie but gets no response. Sarah greets Nancy, who, eager for this new experience, responds warmly. After introductions, the couples begin to compare their lifestyles: eating habits, handshakes, terms for various parts of the body, what frightens them. The discussion serves to educate the sea creatures about life on land.

Soon the conversation turns to their families. Sarah, who has had hundreds of children she has never seen after laying her eggs, is startled to learn that humans usually bear one child at a time and care for it for about eighteen years. When Sarah wants to know why the children stay so long, Nancy explains that humans love their offspring. The sea creatures do not know what love means; it becomes apparent that they have no concept of emotions.

When the lizards notice seagulls flying overhead, Leslie, cautious of the unknown, becomes wary, but Nancy, attempting to ease tensions, jokes that it makes little difference because, according to Charlie,...

(The entire section contains 3283 words.)

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