Sunday, November 7, 2010

Both Your Houses by Maxwell Anderson (1933)

Summary:  New to the House of Representatives, Alan McLean meticulously researches an upcoming House Resolution and notes that it contains additions that will cost American taxpayers millions of dollars.  As his senior colleagues laugh at him, he manages to lobby around Washington and convince a number of important people that the resolution should fail.  Doubting his abilities, he eventually changes his tune, arguing that the bill should pass with even more add-ons (knowing that, if the Resolution is expensive and wasteful enough, the President will veto it).  However, in his quest to build a ludicrous Resolution, he includes the personal projects of nearly everybody.  The resolution passes with a 2/3 majority and cannot be vetoed by the President.  Though he tried to outsmart the politicians, he learns the difficulty of beating people at their own (dishonest) game.

Thoughts:  It was refreshing to read a play that did not contain a romantic relationship or a dysfunctional family.  In fact, the only familial relationship in this play was between Marjorie (a secretary) and her father Simeon Gray (a senior Representative).  Reminiscent of other 1930s workplace dramatizations, the only females in this play are secretaries--but they are also crucial to the operations of the House.  Nevertheless, Anderson uses their gender for comic effect:  

"All they know about having a secretary is what they've learned from the moving pictures.  They try holding you on their laps the first day and assault on the second.....Not that I hold it too much against them.  I'm not exactly at an age to choose my pleasures--and assault at first sight isn't always to be despised” (6). 

There are several allusions to the fact that ordinary Americans have no idea about what goes on in Washington—and the people working in Washington don’t really either.  Though McLean is an idealist with big “hopey changey” ideas, his seniors advise him that one person cannot fix the problems in government because the structure of government is the actual problem.  Though it often seems that McLean is going to get his way and that the play will end with a hopeful message, it does not.  After proclaiming that he is going to leave based on principle, the senior members of his committee persuade him to stay…mostly because he is now a part of the old boy’s club. 

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