Saturday, November 6, 2010

Idiot's Delight by Robert Sherwood (1936)

Summary:  An assortment of travelers are stranded at the Hotel Monte Gabriele on the precipice of World War II.  The hotel essentially sits atop a military base at the border of Italy, Switzerland and Austria.  Antics ensue because the collection of travelers include a pair of honeymooners, a man named Harry who directs a traveling act featuring six blond dancers and a very oddly matched couple of unknown origin.  Lengthy drunken conversations reveal that the female half of this couple is one of Harry's former lovers with whom he spent one crazy night in a hotel in Nebraska and who is likely traveling on a forged passport.  At the end of the play, all of the characters are unsure about what the future holds both for their own relationships and the world-at-large.

Thoughts:  After the emotionally uncertain conclusion, there is a postscript written by Sherman about the then-current political situation.  Sherwood writes, "During the past two weeks (this is March 16, 1936) the Italians have made a great offensive in Ethiopia..."  He spends an entire paragraph discussing specific tensions around the world before adding:
"What will happen before this play reaches print or a New York audience, I do not know.  But let me express here the conviction that those who shrug and say, "'War is inevitable,' are false prophets.  I believe that the world is populated largely by decent people, and decent people don't want war.  Nor do they make war.  They fight and die, to be sure-but that is because that have been deluded by their exploiters, who are members of the indecent minority" (189).  

Though the play was written three years before the generally assumed start date of World War 2 (September 1939), the tension erupts from confusion about what is currently happening (to individual characters and the outside world) and uncertainty about what the future holds.  Adding to the surface-level confusion is the fact that the hotel staff speaks almost exclusively in Italian (and a good portion of Sherwood's dialogue is written in Italian with no translation).

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