Sidney Brustein, a cynical, disillusioned intellectual living in a Greenwich Village apartment with his wife, Iris. An idealist in his youth, Sidney had been involved with all manner of causes and was active on various committees advocating social change. Now in his early thirties, he epitomizes the alienated white intellectual searching for meaning in his life. As the disappointed, disinterested dreamer, Sidney has withdrawn from social and political action to run a failed coffee house and, subsequently, to attempt running a community newspaper. As a newspaper owner, he helps to elect a local reform candidate, whom he then discovers is in the pay of the crime syndicate. Both the coffee house and the newspaper reflect his efforts to escape to an ideal world. Circumstances force Sidney to realize that his mask of cynical detachment prevents him from seeing life realistically and allows others to manipulate his political naïveté. He learns, as well, that in the absence of committed involvement by responsible individuals, chaos, disintegration, and failure may well result.
Iris Parodus Brustein
Iris Parodus Brustein, Sidney’s wife, an aspiring but unsuccessful actress. She is a young and pretty woman, with long, flowing hair that Sidney is always letting down. Iris is several years younger than Sidney and is the realist of the two. She feels stifled in their marriage. The pressure of trying both to conform to and yet escape from Sidney’s image of her as a rustic, naïve, and unsophisticated woman-child whom he has educated has worn on her nerves. Her own inability to overcome her fear of auditions has also taken its toll. Iris is capable of rebellion, of making changes, and of taking control of her life back into her own hands.
Mavis Parodus Bryson
Mavis Parodus Bryson, Iris’ traditional, matronly older sister and the family conservative. She is married to a wealthy businessman and has three sons. Although she is almost a stereotype of the staid, meddling, racist, and parochial elder sister who cannot understand the lifestyle of her younger sister or her Jewish husband and their bohemian friends, Mavis manages to escape her limitations by raising challenging questions. She is also a more honest person, a more caring person, and a far stronger person than either her sister or her brother-in-law realizes.
Gloria Parodus, the youngest of the three Parodus sisters, who, collectively, function something like a chorus annotating the play’s action. Although Gloria is not introduced until the third act, her presence colors the attitudes and actions of several characters. A beautiful, wholesome-looking young woman, Gloria makes her living by prostitution. Because of her line of work, she has been physically abused by clients and is involved in substance abuse, taking a variety of pills and drinking far too much to enable her to face her life. Gloria resolves to leave prostitution and marry, attempting to escape from a brutal life to an idealized one. When her fiancée learns of her profession, however, he finds that he cannot marry her, and she commits suicide.
Alton Scales, a black American intellectual, part of Sidney’s bohemian circle, and the man Gloria plans to marry. Alton is the lone African American character (except perhaps for Max) in the play. He is a fair or light-skinned African American whose color permits a discussion of interracial relationships and racism. He is light-skinned enough to be taken for white but insists on...
(The entire section is 869 words.)