THE STORY: The place is the Nebraska home of Susan and Robert Atwater. Robert has left his wife and gone off to California with a younger woman, and Susan has taken in her aged, increasingly cantankerous mother, Harriet, who has recently suffered a stroke. As the play begins, Susan is nervously awaiting Robert’s unexpected return, hoping that he will, at last, be able to return the love (and desire) she still feels for him. But while it turns out that Robert is willing to come back to her, it is quickly evident that he is motivated by a sense of guilt and responsibility, rather than passion, and that his heart still belongs to his lover in California. Paralleling this present-day action are “dream sequences” which reveal the story of Harriet and her family: her stern, unyielding father, who treated her and her gentle, loving mother like servants; her first doomed romance with a young doctor deemed unsuitable by her father; being packed off to normal school to be trained as a teacher; her mother’s agonizing death; a loveless marriage of convenience; and, at last, a moment of true, redeeming passion with the man she had continued to desire all through her life. As the play ends the lessons of the present and the past come together and, somehow, clarify the future, as mother and daughter find a depth of mutual respect and understanding they have not known before, and Susan, aware now that she must not settle for less than the “grand romance” she has always hoped for, releases Robert to return to the woman he really loves.
An affecting and ingeniously conceived family drama which takes place on two levels of reality: the present day lives of an estranged wife and her aged, ailing mother; and the haunting, evocative events of the past which arise from the mother’s fervid memory. First produced by the celebrated Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.