Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 542
Austin, a self-deprecating but aspiring screenwriter in his early thirties. Somewhat romantic, he works by candlelight in his vacationing mother’s house, creating a “simple love story” to complete a film deal with producer Saul Kimmer, toward whom he is respectful and sycophantic. Conventionally educated at an Ivy League college, Austin inhabits a neat world constructed of middle-class values of rationality, self-discipline, and hard work. This world is threatened by the arrival of his brother Lee, the object of Austin’s sibling envy and repressed hostility. As Lee insinuates himself into Austin’s territory, Austin becomes increasingly insecure. Adopting Lee’s behavior, speech, and profession in a complete character transformation, he abandons his film project and becomes roaring drunk, thereby unleashing an inventiveness previously stifled by his intellectuality. With a burst of bravado, he steals every toaster in the neighborhood in an attempt to outperform Lee’s nefarious activities. Now uncertain of his identity and believing himself unable to exist in modern society, he bargains to return to the desert with Lee. When Lee reneges on the promise, Austin’s civilized veneer shatters, exposing a murderous violence beneath.
Lee, Austin’s menacing older brother. He is in his forties and scruffily dressed. He has just returned from several months of nomadic existence in the desert with only a pit bull dog for company. Austin’s opposite, he is a natural man, lacking education and goals. Lee is without visible morality or scruples (except in the matter of their absent father), but his behavior reveals a jealousy of his brother’s lifestyle; he systematically usurps Austin’s time, space, and identity. He is not without insight, and he possesses an imagination unfettered by education, but he lacks discipline and cannot tolerate frustration. What he wants he takes, whether it be a neighbor’s television set, Austin’s car, or, ultimately, Austin’s work, as he gambles with Saul Kimmer for the acceptance of his scenario in preference to his brother’s. When he discovers that he lacks the skills necessary to transform his imaginative ideas into art, or his lifestyle into one of legitimacy, he becomes destructive.
Saul Kimmer, a Hollywood producer in his late forties. Shallow and superficial, dressed in loud flowered shirts and polyester pants, he is a caricature of the Hollywood parasite who, lacking talent himself, survives by marketing the talents of others. His amorality matches Lee’s; he is seduced by Lee’s manipulations and rejects Austin’s script without a qualm. Lee’s insistence on calling him “Mr. Kipper” labels him accurately as a cold fish.
Mom, a woman in her sixties, the mother of the two brothers. Mom is characterized by Lee as not liking “even a single tea leaf in her sink,” but she is strangely indifferent to the destruction of her home and plants when she returns suddenly in the last scene from her vacation in Alaska. More concerned about what she has interpreted as a visit of Picasso to the local museum than about the primal contest occurring before her eyes, she seems unable to grasp the fact that Picasso is dead, and she is blind to her sons’ hatred, thus displaying an inability to distinguish life from art.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 729
At the beginning of the play, Austin is the apparently conventional brother dressed m a light blue sports shirt, a light tan cardigan sweater, clean blue jeans, and white tennis shoes. In Ms early thirties, he is neat and organized, clearly a responsible adult. He appears to be an accomplished writer and, in fitting with his accountable nature, has been chosen by his mother to take care of her house while she is on vacation in Alaska In the first half of the play he tries hard to be polite and understanding with his apparently less-refined older brother, Lee, and is dominated by Lee's violence and superior strength. In the second half of the play, however, Austin's behavior begins to reflect his brother's, becoming coarse and sloppy in his demeanor and appearance. By the end of the play, Austin is profoundly drunk, has stolen numerous toasters from the neighborhood, and is on the verge of strangling his brother to death. As evidenced by Lee's increasing seriousness and new dedication to writing— traits that Austin displayed at the play's outset—it is clear that the brothers have exchanged significant aspects of their personalities. Austin, for his part, reveals a desire to emulate his brother's wilder tendencies, to live a less-structured, more adventurous life.
Saul Kimmer is a slick Hollywood movie producer in his late forties who comes to the house to discuss business with Austin but ends up playing golf with Lee and agreeing to back Lee's screenplay rather than Austin’s. He is cartoonishly dressed in a pink and white flower print sports coat with matching polyester slacks and black and white loafers. While a significant device in shifting the action of the play-—sparking pivotal changes in each brothers' behavior—the character of Kimmer is little more than a stereotype of a fast-talking, soulless Hollywood executive. It is clear that he cares little about the artistic merits of either brother's screenplay but is merely interested in which film will make him more money.
Lee is Austin's older brother and something of a social misfit. He is in his early forties and, at the beginning of the play, appears completely uncivilized. He is dressed in a filthy T-shirt, a pink suede belt, a tattered brown overcoat, and shoes with holes in the soles; he is a poster child for careless slobs. Lee has come to visit Austin following a reunion with the brothers' estranged father, who lives in the desert. Obviously lacking in financial security and social graces. Lee is jealous of his little brother's success and refinement. Initially, he swills beer, talks aggressively, plans burglaries in his mother's neighborhood, and bullies Austin. When Hollywood producer Saul Kimmer arrives. Lee butts in and deflects Kimmer's interest away from Austin's screenplay by proposing his own idea for a film set in the "true West." While Lee appears close to a successful screenwriting deal, he becomes very anxious about success and the prospect of actually writing the script, With no writing—-let alone typing—skills, he needs Austin's help. Just as the older brother is seeing the benefits of emulating his brother's discipline, however, Austin has become too drunk to help him. As Austin has become infatuated with the idea of living Lee's wild and free life. Lee has glimpsed the possibilities that honest success offers.
The mother of Austin and Lee appears at the end of the play, returning from her vacation in Alaska to discover her house in shambles. In her early sixties, she is a small woman dressed in a conservative white skid and matching jacket with a red shoulder bag and two pieces of matching luggage. Her response to the disaster is eccentrically muted. She speaks softly, chastising her sons in a tone that makes her seem relatively unconcerned, even while Austin seems to be strangling Lee to death. Having read that a Picasso exhibit was coming to the museum in her home town, she thinks it means that Picasso himself will be there, unaware that Picasso has already died. While appearing a trifle odd, Mother's reaction to the carnage her sons have wrought indicates that she has grown accustomed to such behavior and no longer feels a need to respond to it. Her detached attitude toward her sons' irrational actions suggests that this incident is not unique in the brothers' relationship.
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