Friday, October 22, 2010

They Knew What They Wanted by Sidney Howard (1925)

Summary:  Tony is a sixty-year-old Italian immigrant with a vineyard and more money than he knows what to do with.  After a trip to San Fransisco, he writes a letter to a young waitress he saw there asking her to marry him and come live on the vineyard.  Upon arrival, she is surprised to discover that Tony sent her a picture of Joe (whose stage directions specify that he is "dark, sloppy, beautiful and young") instead of himself.  Regardless, she agrees to marry him but ends up having a one-time sexual encounter with Joe on the night she is married to Tony.  A few months later, the doctor reveals that she is pregnant.  Subsequently, she tells Tony that she has no choice but to leave for an uncertain life of poverty and strife with Joe.  Tony convinces her to stay, stating that he will raise the baby as his own.  Joe seems relieved.

Thoughts:  Another play with an overly detailed plot summary.  All of the action of this play takes place at the vineyard, often with Tony holding court (due to an accident that broke both of his legs).  Outsiders are involved in Tony and Amy's business because Tony, good natured Italian that he is, talks to anyone about everything. 

Some of the most interesting things about this play have nothing to do with the plot or individual relationships between characters.  Instead, commentary about prohibition, Catholics, unions, science versus religion, abortion, immigration and race relations are hidden behind a fairly general play about family and marriage.  This play is set in prohibition-era California and Tony's vineyard is hugely profitable because it has continued to illegally make wine.  Meanwhile, Father McKee (the somehow always present Catholic priest) issues statements about his discomfort surrounding Tony marrying someone who is not Catholic and wine being used for purposes other than sacramental (this does not mean that he doesn't drink it when it is offered).  McKee's sparring partner in the play is The Doctor, who not only reveals to Joe that Amy is pregnant (before telling Amy), but refers to wine as poison and is frequently bemused by the "Wop antics" that surround him.

When dark, sloppy beautiful Joe (a member of the Wobblies--Industrial Workers of the World) indirectly suggests abortion to Amy, she replies, "Them kind of doctors is no good.  They're no good.  I'm too far gone anyway...I know...and anyway..doing that...It's worse than the other" (Act 3).  This statement reveals that Amy knows something about abortion--and perhaps has even had one before.

The often controversial social statements are always quick and usually argued from two perspectives--perhaps in a move of self-protection by playwright Sidney Howard.

No comments:

Post a Comment