The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The first act of this two-act play, presented in seven scenes, shows the destruction of Mary Haines’s marriage. When the curtain opens, Mary is absent. Four women sit playing bridge, smoking and gossiping as Sylvia Fowler complains about her husband. He expects her to stay home and keep house despite their wealth and servants. The other players include the young Peggy; Nancy, a writer; and Edith, a colorless and sloppy woman unhappily pregnant. When Edith leaves the room, Sylvia tells the others of Edith’s husband’s unfaithfulness. Sylvia has also heard that Stephen Haines has a mistress. By the end of the scene, Sylvia plans to take Mary to the beauty shop, where Mary will hear about her husband. The second scene takes place in that shop. Nancy, a professional woman whose next book, she later suggests, will be titled Gone with the Ice-Man or Sex Has No Place in the Home, tries to convince Mary that appearance does not matter if a man loves a woman, but Mary accepts the superficial values of her other friends. She stays, and a manicurist, making conversation, reveals Stephen’s affair with Crystal Allen. In the third scene, in Mary’s sitting room, her mother, Mrs. Morehead, tries to persuade her to ignore the affair. Mrs. Morehead whisks her daughter off to Bermuda.

In the fourth scene, two months later, Mary has returned and meets Crystal in a dressmaker’s shop. Sylvia, upset by Mary’s acceptance of the situation, hints that Crystal will alienate the affections of Mary’s children. This is pure malice: In a later scene, it is obvious that Crystal wants nothing to do with the Haines children. Sylvia’s suggestion, however, causes Mary to ignore her mother’s advice and to confront Crystal. Sylvia keeps Mary’s friends informed, and, in scene 5, in a beauty shop, Edith reveals that she told a newspaper gossip columnist about the Haines’s marriage. She claims to have forgotten she was talking with a gossip columnist. The affair now is made public, and Mary feels compelled to confront Stephen. In scene 6, Mary’s maid, an Irish American girl, Jane, and the new cook, Maggie, discuss the confrontation during which Mary felt it necessary to ask for a divorce. Marriage, Maggie points out, exists for the family,...

(The entire section is 921 words.)