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Creating the Self in the Contemporary American Theatre

By Robert J. Andreach | Go to book overview

4
Exemplary Selves in Hell

In the second act of Gurney's The Perfect Party, a character appears whose name was not included in the act-1 guest list. He is the host's incorrigible brother Tod, whose name in German means death.

Tony, an ex-university professor, wants to give the perfect party. Yet even though the conception is a metaphor for the new-world American Dream, Tony, who is a member of the New England ruling class, gives an old-world party. It is a communal experience but limited to people he believes capable of a perfect performance. When Lois, the new-world newspaper stringer who wants to parlay a review of the party into a full-time position as reporter, declines to review the event because it lacks the element of danger, he informs her that his twin brother, Tod, a wrecker of parties, will attend.

Once the host discovers that the old world bores the new-world journalist, he has to fabricate interest. Since he knows only the right sort to invite, he fabricates the wrong sort: the antithesis of the guest whose breeding merits invitation, the individual whose name spells death for old-world values. He intuitively creates the self with whom she can identify.

In act 2 Tony appears disguised as Tod, the farcical version of the exemplary self, just as Nelson's Hopper is the farcical version of the same playwright's Charlie. Not satisfied with being the subject reporting himself as object, or reality, he fabricates himself as the reality, or object, to be reported. The object is not a created self but a fabricated image. Singularity is Tod's distinguishing characteristic in that he has a pronounced limp, which gives him a "certain Byronic appeal" but which disqualifies him as a "tennis partner" in doubles matches (220), irritating conversation, and an abnormally large penis. Changing her mind, Lois agrees to review the party, which climaxes with the two of them in bed.

-82-

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