The curtain rises on Jerry lying on his back staring at the night sky through binoculars. Two people in sunglasses enter and unroll a large star map. One points to a spot on the map and tells the audience “You are here.” These three characters exit, leaving the stage empty except for a kitchen table and chair. A disembodied voice begins describing the chair as though it were an ancient and mysterious object, while one of the people in sunglasses enters and points to various parts of the chair. Thus, with a minimum of explanation, Congdon telegraphs the play’s general structure: It is a documentary about contemporary Earth civilization presented by aliens from far into the future.
Throughout the play the aliens continue to deliver a running commentary on the human action. This commentary is a source of comic irony, since the aliens often misinterpret human activities yet also offer off-kilter insight into human nature. In general, the human action, the play-within-a-play, is presented in an impressionistic manner, with many abrupt changes in time and place and very little exposition.
Cathy, the central character in the human story, is recently divorced and has just moved, with her teenage son Eric, to live with her parents, Evelyn and Jim. Moving from New York to a suburban neighborhood in the Midwest has angered Eric and, during the first act, he vents his frustration in a variety of ways. Moreover, Cathy discovers that things are not all well with her parents. Jim has become forgetful, and Evelyn is worried that he may be seriously ill. Adding to Cathy’s feelings of displacement are the changes that have overtaken the...
(The entire section is 678 words.)