The play begins with a moderately long prologue, which may be likened to a soliloquy, spoken years later by the adult Ray. This device provides a context that distances the action that follows, sets the urban scene, gives a wistful tone, introduces the special, inward, and sensitive personality of Ray, and establishes his experience and point of view as the focus of attention and meaning. In poetic prose, Ray shares his memory of what for him has turned out to be the most meaningful event of his last “wine time” summer, his daily, brief meetings with a mysterious girl with whom he fell in love. By the end of that summer, she had moved away, and he had turned sixteen and joined the Navy.
The three acts of the play then take the form mainly of dialogue between family members and friends in a working-class neighborhood; the characters are entertaining themselves with large quantities of talk and wine after another trying day. Men and women talk to one another about their relationships, men talk with men about women, and women talk with women about men. The audience senses the hidden agendas in these conversations. Themes emerge, such as the ways in which lives are molded by the pressures of poverty and racism, the nature of true manhood and the ways in which it might involve women and family, and potential and loss.
The action takes place mostly on the Dawson family’s stoop, but sometimes the stage lighting shifts the scene to “the Avenue,” where a mirroring subplot takes place. Act 1 tells the audience what it needs to know about Cliff and Lou Dawson and their adopted nephew, Ray, and presents some options that might be available for Ray. It also presents the conflicts between and within Cliff and Lou. These conflicts are echoed and aggravated by conflicts between these characters and various minor characters. In act 2, the option of “the girl” is presented along with the conflict within Ray, and the earlier established conflicts are heightened. In act 3, the conflicts and themes are quickly brought to a crisis that is just as quickly resolved by violence.
The action all takes place on a single hot summer night. As usual, Cliff, Lou, and Ray are out on their stoop, talking and drinking cheap wine. From time to time, they are joined by friends and acquaintances. Their neighbors are also out on their stoops, frowning on Cliff, whom they consider loud and crude. Cliff is equally annoyed by his...
(The entire section is 995 words.)