The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Tiny Alice opens in the Cardinal’s outside garden. Although the Lawyer wishes to discuss business, the Cardinal insists upon recalling their school days, through which the characters establish their mutual antagonism. At the Cardinal’s prompting, the Lawyer reveals that his employer, Miss Alice, wishes to give the Church $100 million immediately and the identical sum annually for two decades; the Cardinal’s private secretary, Brother Julian, is to finalize the details. The Cardinal agrees to the terms, and the Lawyer exits. The first scene ends with the Cardinal alone onstage talking to his caged cardinals.

In scene 2, in the library of Miss Alice’s castle, an imposing model of the mansion dominates the set. Until the Lawyer’s entrance, Julian and Butler discuss the workmanship of the model and the mansion itself as well as the coincidence of Butler’s name and function being the same. To the Lawyer’s questions regarding the six years of his life not covered by the dossier, Julian refuses an answer; he further objects to the Lawyer’s antagonism toward the Cardinal. The Lawyer responds that he has learned to distinguish between reality and representation. After the Lawyer’s exit, Julian does admit to Butler that during his missing six years he had signed himself into a mental institution because he could not integrate his own perception of God with that of other men. Julian believes that his faith and his sanity are synonymous.

Scene 3, in Miss Alice’s tower sitting room, presents the Lawyer and Miss Alice acting out a charade in which Miss Alice appears to be a crotchety, somewhat deaf old woman. Alone with Julian, Miss Alice briefly continues the charade before revealing herself to be an attractive young woman. Miss Alice establishes that Butler was once her lover, that the Lawyer is her current lover (with whom she is bored), and that she is not Catholic. To her query about his absent six years, Julian responds simply that after his faith had abandoned him he institutionalized himself. Nevertheless, Julian is unable to answer with certainty Miss Alice’s question regarding his sexual experience. Instead, he graphically describes his hallucinatory period during which he may have had intercourse with a fellow inmate who believed herself to be the Virgin Mary, and who subsequently died of uterine cancer. After responding that she, too, has a secret, Miss Alice returns to the business of her donation. Act 1 ends with the Lawyer and Miss Alice’s conspiratorial agreement that nothing indestructible appears to block their plan.

Act 2 begins in the library with the Lawyer’s sexual advances to Miss Alice, who with abhorrence catalogs his faults. Butler enters with an analysis of the wine cellar’s deteriorating condition. After Julian’s entrance, the characters move to a metaphysical discussion of the mansion as a replica of the model and the model as a replica of the mansion. Julian interrupts the quarrel developing between Miss Alice and the Lawyer to point out that the chapel in the model is on fire. Butler, a bewildered Julian, and the Lawyer rush to extinguish the fire in the castle’s chapel. Alone, Miss Alice delivers a soliloquy that alternates between prayer and introspection. Julian, still confused, returns to report that the floorboards...

(The entire section is 1354 words.)