(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Henley sets The Wake of Jamey Foster in a small Mississippi town where friends and family gather after Jamey Foster dies after a drunken midnight escapade in which he is kicked in the head by a cow. Wayne Foster, Jamey’s younger brother and a bank officer, attempts to establish a sense of dignity. He is aided by his wife, Katty. They fail because Jamey’s wife, Marshael, her sister Collard, and her brother Leon are not easily described as respectable. Collard comes to the wake from a wild party in Memphis in a bright red evening gown and cowboy boots. Leon is rather simpleminded and is more concerned with his new girlfriend, Pixrose, than with the dignity of the funeral. Indeed, he arranges for Jamey’s body to be dressed in a bright plaid smoking jacket because it seems cheerful.

Throughout the day and night of the wake, tension grows, forcing the revelation of several secrets. Jamey Foster had left his wife and was living with another woman when his fatal accident occurred. The reason Jamey left Marshael was because she secretly sent the scholarly manuscript he was writing to a publisher, who then notified Jamey that it was worthless. Jamey’s brother blames Marshael for Jamey’s death.

Wayne also dislikes his wife, Katty, partly because her father is his boss at the bank. Wayne is also disappointed because she has had several miscarriages and appears not to be able to have children. Leon, Marshael’s brother, works at a...

(The entire section is 548 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Burke, Sally. American Feminist Playwrights. New York: Twayne, 1996.

Cohen, Phillip C., and Colby H. Kullman, eds. Speaking on Stage: Interviews with Contemporary American Playwrights. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1996.

Craig, Carolyn Casey. Women Pulitzer Prize Playwrights: Biographical Profiles and Analyses of the Plays. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2004.

Holloday, Hilary. Contemporary Poets, Dramatists, Essayists, and Novelists of the South. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Keyssar, Helen. Feminist Theatre. London: Macmillan, 1984.

Plunka, Gene A. The Plays of Beth Henley: A Critical Study. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2005.

Robinson, Alice M., Vera Roberts, and Milly S. Barranger. Notable Women in the American Theatre: A Biographical Dictionary. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1989.