Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1340
Act 1, scene 1
Sweet Bird of Youth opens in a hotel room in St. Cloud, Florida. In bed are Princess Kosmonopolis (the alias of aging actress Alexandra del Lago) and Chance Wayne, who has come back to his hometown. While the actress sleeps, Chance drinks coffee. George Scudder appears at the door, wanting to know why Chance has returned. When Chance informs him he wants to see his mother and his girlfriend, Heavenly Finley, Scudder tells Chance that his mother recently died and was buried, and that something has happened to Heavenly. Scudder had tried and failed to contact Chance about these matters. Scudder also warns Chance that he had better leave town before Heavenly’s father and brother come after him. Before leaving, Scudder reveals that he will be marrying Heavenly soon.
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Chance awakens the Princess. The Princess struggles to remember who he is and where they are. It becomes apparent that Chance is her gigolo. She has been drinking heavily and using hashish, which has contributed to her memory lapse. The Princess talks about being a middle-aged actress who does not want to retire. She has recently made a movie, and when she went to the premiere, she was horri- fied by herself on screen. The Princess is still on the run from this experience. As her memory returns, the Princess remembers how she became involved with Chance.
The Princess wants to know what Chance wants from her. While she was in her stupor, Chance had her put him under contract with a Hollywood studio of which she owns a part. The Princess tells him that the contract has loopholes and can be invalidated. When the Princess tries to seduce him, Chance pulls out a tape-recording he made of her discussing how she smuggled hashish into the United States. Chance attempts to blackmail her into signing traveler’s checks to him. The Princess is offended, but she tells him that if they make love right now, she will give him some money.
Act 1, scene 2
The Princess signs traveler’s checks for Chance, but insists that she will go with him to cash them. She is afraid to be left alone. As she puts on makeup, Chance tells her his life story. He was popular here. Instead of going to college, he went to New York and was in the choruses of Broadway shows. Chance also made love to many rich women in New York, giving affection to the lonely. During the Korean War, Chance joined the Navy because the uniform looked good on him. He felt he was wasting his youth, and had a nervous breakdown. After his honorable discharge, he returned home and again become involved with Heavenly. Though they were in love, Heavenly’s father, Boss Finley, would not let them marry.
Chance asks the Princess to help him by staging a phony talent contest, which he and Heavenly will win. Chance will then take Heavenly to Hollywood. The Princess does not want the publicity. Instead, she sends him down to cash the checks. Chance wants to show the town he is not washed up, and promises to return with most of the money and the car. The Princess allows him to go, hoping he will come back.
Act 2, scene 1
At Boss Finley’s house, Heavenly’s father is angry that Chance has returned. He calls in his son, Tom Junior. Finley wants his son to throw Chance out of town because the last time he was here he gave Heavenly a sexually transmitted disease that required her to have a hysterectomy. As they talk, Tom Junior informs him that Chance Wayne has stopped outside and is talking with Aunt Nonnie. Tom Junior calls for Aunt Nonnie, who runs into the house. The Finleys question Nonnie. Though she says she will get Chance to leave town, she also defends him, telling Finley that he was a nice boy before Finley destroyed him.
After Nonnie leaves, Tom Junior becomes upset with his father. Finley is running for re-election with Tom Junior on the ticket. When Finley points out Junior’s failings, he strikes back with a reminder that Finley keeps a mistress, Miss Lucy, at the hotel. Tom Junior reports that Miss Lucy has said that Finley is too old to have sex. Finley becomes upset by these words.
Heavenly finally appears. Finley compliments her on her beauty. When Finley tries to suggest how she should behave, Heavenly becomes angry. She reminds him that he drove Chance away and tried to marry her off to a succession of old men. She blames him for Chance’s corruption. Finley tries to buy her off with a shopping spree. He also insists that she will be at the televised rally that night at the hotel. When Heavenly refuses to go, he informs her that Chance is back in town, and that if she does not appear, Chance will be harmed.
Act 2, scene 2
At the hotel’s cocktail lounge, Miss Lucy tells the bartender that Boss Finley smashed her fingers with a jewelry box for her comments about his sexual performance. The Heckler enters. When Miss Lucy learns of his intentions to bring up Heavenly’s unfortunate past, she offers to help The Heckler get into the Finleys’ rally.
Chance comes into the bar. Aunt Nonnie soon follows. She informs him that he must leave town. Chance shows her the contract with the Princess’s studio and tells her about the talent contest. When Nonnie emphasizes the danger he is in, Chance informs her that life is not worth living without Heavenly.
Chance runs into old acquaintances at the bar. They do not treat him well, but Chance does not understand what has changed. Miss Lucy enters and talks to him. She knows the truth about Chance’s life. One of the old acquaintances tells Chance about the Finley rally that night and what it is about. When the old acquaintances leave, Miss Lucy offers to take Chance to the airport.
The Princess appears, disheveled and incoherent. She chides him for leaving her alone. As Hatcher, the hotel manager, approaches them, Chance insists on taking the Princess upstairs. Boss Finley and Heavenly enter the hotel. Chance and Heavenly come face to face. Before they can say anything, Finley drags Heavenly away.
Though the Princess wants to leave, Chance has to deal with Hatcher and Tom Junior about what happened to Heavenly. Chance demands an explanation from Tom Junior. Tom Junior informs Chance that Chance gave Heavenly a disease and that it will affect the rest of her life. He tells Chance to leave town before midnight or he will be castrated. Chance gets the Princess to go to her room.
Miss Lucy and Chance watch Finley speak on television in the lounge. The Heckler asks his awkward question about Heavenly’s operation. Afterwards, he is beaten. Heavenly is horrified by his question, and collapses.
In the hotel room, the Princess is on the phone demanding a driver. Hatcher and his cronies force their way inside, insisting that she leave. She tears into them. Tom Junior enters, demanding to know where Chance is. She says she does not know, and Tom promises to get her a driver. After the men leave, Chance returns. Chance assures her that he is still her driver, though he is in no state to drive.
The Princess tells Chance that she wants him to accept his life with her. Chance calls a Hollywood gossip columnist. The Princess speaks to her and learns that her movie has done very well, which will allow her to make a great comeback. Chance intended for her to tell the columnist about two rising future stars, meaning him and Heavenly, but the Princess does not. The Princess makes plans for her return. As the Princess prepares to leave, she wants Chance to come with her. He will not leave. They both realize how time has affected them. The Princess leaves, and Tom Junior enters with other men to deal with Chance.