Friday, July 17, 2009

The Living Room - Graham Greene

Multi-storied building, where most of the rooms are closed, currently occupied by three old people. Two sisters ( Theresa and Helen)and their wheel-chaired brother James ( a Priest by profession), assisted by Mary a paid per hour servant.

Rose, a twenty year old, is brought back to her aunts and uncle after the death of her mother by a friend of her father(died long ago). What receives her here are the closed rooms and the catholic aunts with closed mind. After the death of any member of the house the room is closed permanently for reason not known to any; ( Quote: " I always think of ghosts, the dead who cant sleep"). The entire action takes place in the one available Living Room.

Rose, and Michael , post the funeral of her mother had chosen to stay at the village for the night before coming over to her aunts, having a little affair. Michael , nurturing an unhappy marriage, finds love in the young Rose against the Catholic believes of the aunts. Rose wanted to leave the house with Michael, and by various cunning tactics in the pretext of religion, Helen manages to stop them. She makes Theresa ill, forcing Rose to stay on until she is recovered, later brings the wife of Michael to the house causing a scene, playing with the vulnerabilities of people. Defeated, Rose commit suicide , consuming sleeping pills left over by Mrs. Michael. The Living Room is also has to be closed now, after the death of Rose. Limiting the free movement of the remaining people to the constrict of two rooms.

The play is short and covered under 4 acts. The first 2 acts of Rose's arrival with Richards one evening and the next morning and the second a similar afternoon and the next morning after three weeks.

While there are no obvious bad characters here, most of the characters are very sharp and distinct. To me Helen stands out. She acts according to her belief routed in Catholic practices and does not approve love and affair outside the marriage. The Fact that Rose is a 20 yr old and Michael is a 45 yr old married man, does not stand good in the court of religious justice. She does not approve their relationship and plots everything possible to thwart the same. She send the maid Mary to Spy on them at their secret rendezvous place at every afternoon, she manages to inform the wife of Michael and stages a show of suicide and cries, gets Theresa to believe that she is sick and falling and need nursing by Rose to prevent her from leaving. While her acts looks very villainous, her intentions were pure and in accordance with her religious belief. The fact that Michael is not a Catholic can only add more vigour to her acts.

Michael is another difficult character. An unsatisfied husband, no love with his wife after the death of their child. Works as a Lecturer of Phycology in the University , where "he can understand the mind, and not love the mind". Rose was a seduction for him on the night of the funeral. As the 'executor' of the will, and the friend of her father, he also had the proximity and authority to her, however the family tried to stop him. But he also realises, that he is not able to abandon his wife. He consoles himself that 'she will not do anything stupid, she will be at home' after her dramatised attempt to commit suicide. While his love for Rose is strong, he is unable to take any bold decisions in its favour. The closest he is coming is to take time till "the day after tomorrow".

Father James, is the less Catholic of the three old. He is more in the realistic world and is considerate to both Michael and Rose's feeling. But he does not loose his believes. He is also not happy about the closed rooms where the ancestors are died. He does not subscribe to the reasoning of Helen. He is able to think more clearly in both religious and philosophical way. He is the only one who can engage in conversation with every other character.

Theresa is a lost soul. All she can do is sympathise. He existence depends on the support of Helen. Helen decided her actions. She takes the responsibilities for the undue behaviour towards Rose. "..I seemed to frighten her. It's a nice house. We aren't bad people. I don't know why there should be so much fear around."

Rose, is young and live. She is at an age where she is not intelligent, and she is not the raw. She need help and she need love. She fails to get any from all. To Michael she is only a passing seduction. For the Aunts, she is the protection of the family values and name. Father James, can only advise her to prey. She gets followed and spied on. She gets accused of breaking up families. She is an orphan in all senses.

Fantastic play in mere 80 odd pages. As Director Perter Glenville explains in the introduction, "This play is not for or against Catholics , it's about them - or rather about certain individuals Catholics who find themselves in a terrible dilemma; a dilemma pushed to its farthest limit ". As Father James remarks , "You see it's nearness to God that withers a man up. We are all such long comfortable distance away."

While this play was a huge success in London, where it ran for 38 weeks, it was failure at the broadway according to this report. The first play by Graham Greene , is an outstanding piece of work.

The Living Room
Graham Greene
Penguin Books
87 Pages
More Read : Guardian

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