Last Updated on February 19, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 683
Mrs. Elbert Smythe Stevenson
For almost the entire play, Mrs. Stevenson is the only character in the sense that she speaks all the dialogue; at the very end, one other character speaks. All of her lines are spoken into the telephone or to herself. The audience gains insight into several other individuals with whom she converses or about whom she speaks.
Mrs. Stevenson’s first name is not provided. When she speaks on the phone, she gives her name as Mrs. Elbert Stevenson, sometimes including Smythe. Mrs. Stevenson is bedridden and bemoans that she cannot get out of her bed. She depends heavily on her bedside telephone. The medical condition that affects her is not named. Since she first became ill twelve years earlier, she has become, in her words, “an invalid” and “a sick woman.” However, in conversing with a hospital staffer, she indicates that she is “not under a doctor's care at the moment.” She tells them that the “nature of the case is nerves,” and at numerous other times, she describes herself as “very nervous.” At various points she mentions that the ringing phone is “driving me crazy” and she feels that she is about to “go mad.”
Mrs. Stevenson’s understanding of her condition leads her to believe that she is “entitled to a little consideration” and that she “need[s] soothing.” Within the course of the play, although her nervous conditions is likely exacerbated by her concerns over the murder plot, she is very short-tempered and demanding. She frequently uses words such as “idiotic” and “stupid” both to speak about and to speak to the professionals with whom she interacts.
Elbert Smythe Stevenson
Mrs. Stevenson mentions her husband, Elbert, a number of times, but he never appears. During her conversation with a representative at the police department, she tells the person on the phone that her husband is “crazy about” her and “just adores” her, rarely leaves her side, and is very attentive: he “waits on me hand and foot.”
Elbert is not at home, because he is supposedly working late. His office phone line is constantly busy. Late that night, Mrs. Stevenson receives a telegram via the phone. Elbert tells her that, rather than come home that night, he is taking a business trip to Boston.
The police sergeant is the only other character with lines. At the play’s conclusion, he answers the phone at the police station. Although he is apparently taking the call that the operator put through for Mrs. Stevenson, a man is on the line.
During the action of the play, the Stevensons’ maid is off duty. Apparently she gets one night off per week. Mrs. Stevenson describes Eloise as big, weighing two hundred pounds. She says that Eloise is too lazy to carry her trays of food upstairs.
It is not clear if Mrs. Stevenson speaks to the same operator every time she calls or if she speaks to several different people. During one conversation, she refers to the operator as “young woman.” Although the occupation of telephone operator was commonly held by women, it cannot be ascertained that if there are multiple operators, all of them are women.
The Chief Operator
The chief operator is a supervisor with whom Mrs. Stevenson speaks at the operator’s insistence after being dissatisfied with the service.
The Police Receptionist
Mrs. Stevenson speaks on the phone with an individual at the police station who becomes another unseen and unheard character. Their name, rank, and gender are not provided.
Henchly Hospital Staff
An unnamed individual answers the phone at Henchly Hospital when Mrs. Stevenson calls. Miss Phillips is the person they identify as someone who could help her with her request to obtain an overnight nurse, but she is on her dinner break.
An Unexplained Presence in the House
Near the play’s end, Mrs. Stevenson hears a click on the telephone line, indicating that someone is listening on the downstairs extension. The audience cannot be certain if this person is actually in the house or if Mrs. Stevenson’s imagination has gotten the best of her.