Menu Bar

 

Synopsis
by Margaret Loftus Ranald

A play in four acts; awarded the Pulitzer Prize, 1922.

 

Act I. The saloon of "Johnny-the-Priest" near South Street, New York City. The stage is divided into two sections, a bar room and a back room, in a realistic representation of a typical drinking establishment of the area. "It is late afternoon of a day in fall." Johnny-the-Priest, a white-haired, clerical-looking man wearing an apron, is tending bar. He is deceptively mild in appearance and manner, but one senses the hardness and callousness beneath this exterior. As the play opens he is lounging in a chair, reading the evening paper, with his spectacles on his nose. Two Longshoremen enter and are served drinks. Larry, a young fellow of twenty or so, arrives to take Johnny's place at the bar when a Postman appears with a letter addressed to Christopher Christopherson, in care of Johnny, with the postmark of St. Paul, Minnesota. As Johnny leaves, Chris, "a short squat, broad-shouldered man of about fifty," enters. His face is "round, weather-beaten," with short-sighted, kindly blue eyes. His neck is thick, and "he walks with a clumsy rolling gait" on unusually short legs. He is the captain of a coal barge. At this moment, he is happily inebriated, ready and willing to oblige with a song. He downs another drink and says that he has just returned from a dirty voyage to Norfolk. Suddenly he remembers that Marthy Owen has come with him. She is a "Tugboat Annie" type of about forty or fifty, fat, flabby, with greasy gray hair in an untidy topknot over a "jowly, mottled face" and red nose. She is dressed in grimy men's clothing, oversize brogans, and a calico skirt. Her voice is loud and mannish, but she has retained a certain lusty, gusty quality despite the obvious ill usage she has suffered. She is living with Chris. Chris is given his letter, which is from Anna, his daughter, who is coming "right away" because she has been sick. The old sailor recalls that he has not seen her in fifteen years because she has been living with his wife's relatives in Minnesota. By now she is twenty years old and expects to stay with her father on her arrival. Chris is most embarrassed over how to explain Marthy, who instantly understands and says she'll be off the boat before Anna arrives. She will always be able to find another bargeman to live with. The two decide to celebrate Anna's imminent arrival, but Marthy suggests that Chris get something to eat so that he will be sober when she comes.

 

Anna Christopherson then enters the bar through the "family entrance." "She is a tall, blond, fully developed girl of twenty, handsome after a large, Viking-daughter fashion." Clearly she is not in good health and, equally obviously, is a prostitute. She is cheaply and tawdrily dressed. She orders, "gimme a whiskey—ginger ale on the side. And don't be stingy, baby," as she sinks into a chair by the table opposite Marthy. Each woman has another drink after Anna speaks of her journey from Minnesota and Marthy realizes her identity. Each assesses the other, but Marthy refuses to be taken for a prostitute. As Anna Christopherson continues her life story, she reveals that she now calls herself "Anna Christie." She is shocked to hear from Marthy that Chris is not a janitor but a coal barge captain, but Marthy rushes to his defense: "That's what comes of his bringing yuh up inland—away from the old devil sea—where yu'd be safe." With bitter irony, Anna tells of her life as a poor-relation-slavey, of the way her cousin "started" her sexually when she was only sixteen. In an outburst of rage, she says that she hates all men. Marthy, however, says that Chris is one of the good ones and warns Anna that the old man thinks the world of her.

 

Chris returns and asks after Marthy. Larry tells him that she is in the back room with "another tramp"; and when Chris enters, Marthy leaves for the barge to pack her things, first informing him that her companion is Anna. Chris enters the back room with embarrassed emotion, looking shyly at Anna, whose brilliant clothes impress him with their "class." The two kiss clumsily and then start talking. Anna is at first resentful that her father had never visited her, but Chris tries to explain about "dat ole davil sea" which makes sailors act irrationally. Anna is scornful of his working on a coal barge since she has thought he held a respectable job as a janitor. In reply Chris lies, claiming he needed a job in the open air because he has been sick. To this Anna says that she just got out of the hospital two weeks earlier. This calls forth Chris's protective instincts, and it is ironic to remember that Anna has told Marthy that her stay in the hospital came after the "house" in which she had worked was raided by the police. Chris suggests that life on the barge will improve her health and gently suggests that she drink some port wine to increase her strength. With the eyes of love, he sees her as a defenseless, innocent girl, embarrassing Larry by this revelation. Anna, in Chris's absence, doesn't know what to do and collapses into sobs. The act ends as Chris and Anna drink a toast with "Skoal," Anna "downing her port at a gulp like a drink of whiskey."

 

Act II. It is ten days later, and Anna is with her father on board the "barge, `Simeon Winthrop,' at anchor in the outer harbor of Provincetown, Mass." It is 10 P.M., and the vessel is enshrouded in dense fog. The curtain rises to show Anna wearing an oilskin and no hat, looking "healthy, transformed, the natural color has come back to her face." "She is staring into the fog astern with an expression of awed wonder," reveling in this new experience: "I feel as if I was—out of things altogether." The more Chris complains about the sea, the more Anna is coming to love it, and she refuses to go inside, asking about the other members of her family who followed the sea. Chris tells the tale—all but one never returned: "He's the only one dat ole davil don't kill." Shyly he tells her that he was once a boatswain and continues with his attack on sea life and "dat ole davil, sea," which swallows up those who follow her. He tells Anna that a woman is a fool to marry a seafarer, but no matter what Chris says, Anna claims that "I feel clean, somehow—like you feel yust after you've took a bath. And I feel happy for once—yes, honest!—happier than I been anywhere before!" Chris has a premonition that this voyage was a bad idea. But Anna claims that what happens will be "Gawd's will, like the preacher said," to which Chris protests, "No! Dat ole davil, sea, she ain't God!"

 

Suddenly there is a hail and four Sailors from a wrecked vessel come aboard; all but one, Mat Burke, are unable to stand from sheer exhaustion. Mat is a powerful man of six feet, aged about thirty; and when Anna comes out to give him a drink of whiskey, he is overwhelmed to find someone like her on the barge: "I thought you was some mermaid out of the sea come to torment me." Anna, though at first repelled by him, is amused by his ability to joke with her after his experience, and Mat boastfully tells of his feat of strength in rowing for two days while his companions were too weak. Thinking she is Chris's mistress, he makes a clumsy pass at her, asking for a kiss. She pushes him away and catches him off balance so that he falls. She then explains her relationship to Chris, and he apologizes to "a fine, dacent girl the like of yourself," with a grudging admiration for one who has managed to fell him. They shake hands, and Anna is hurt by the strength of his grip. Mat then tells the tale of the wreck and of the misery of a sailor's life in which the only women he meets are out to roll him for the money he brought ashore. Continually, he refers to Anna as "a dacent girl" and has clearly decided that he wants to marry her. Chris comes upon them and orders Anna to bed and Mat to the forecastle. Both refuse, Anna because she won't be ordered like a slave and Mat because he wants to show his strength. But then he remembers that Chris is Anna's father. Anna defends Mat and helps him inside as Mat announces, "You're the girl of the world and we'll be marrying soon and I don't care who knows it!" As Chris hears this, he shakes his fist and bitterly berates the sea: "Dat's your dirty trick, damn ole davil, you! But py God, you don't do dat! Not while Ay'm living! No, py God you don't!"

 

Act III. The interior of the barge, the Simeon Winthrop, in Boston Harbor about a week later on a sunny afternoon. The cabin is spruce and clean with fresh white curtains on the windows. Anna is sitting in a rocking chair with a newspaper, "not reading but staring in front of her," unhappily. Chris is also uneasy and moves restlessly about the cabin looking at her and moving things around. Finally he starts to sing, which calls forth a sarcastic remark from Anna that she wishes they were back in New York. Chris says that she has been having a good time going to movies, "All with that damn Irish fallar!" Anna bridles and asks if he thinks they have been doing anything wrong. Chris apologizes, but then he objects to her swearing, claiming that she learned it from Mat. He tells her that a stoker is not a real sailor and makes it clear that he wants Anna to marry a man who will live on land with a "little home in country all your own," a suggestion that Anna rejects brusquely. She has just told Chris that she isn't good enough for a man like Mat, when Mat himself appears dressed in his best cheap suit and newly shined shoes to tell Chris that he intends to marry Anna that very day. The two men engage in an altercation, Chris suggesting that Anna was making a fool of Mat; but when Mat won't accept that, Chris speaks of the loneliness he will feel without his daughter, saying that Mat would be better off with a wife in every port. Mat counters those arguments by saying that Anna is the only woman in the world for him and that after their marriage Chris would see her more often than he did when she lived in the West. Chris guiltily says he thought it "better Anna stay away, grow up inland where she don't ever know ole davil sea." Mat considers this argument that of a weakling and berates Chris for his gutlessness. One charge leads to another until Chris draws a knife on Mat, who disarms him with the utmost ease.

 

Anna enters, noting the signs of violent argument, and asks for an explanation. Mat declares his love for her, and finally Anna tells hers for him. They embrace passionately, and Anna says "goodby" as she fights back sobs. Chris and Mat, still angry with each other, are not sure what to make of this until Anna repeats herself more clearly: "I can't marry you, Mat." As the two men continue to bicker over her, Anna tells them both to "go to hell" because they are just like all men, treating her as "a piece of furniture." She berates Mat for saying that nothing mattered to him as long as she was not married to someone else and continues her tirade: "But nobody owns me, see?—'cepting myself. I'll do what I please and no man, I don't give a hoot who he is, can tell me what to do! I ain't asking either of you for a living. I can make it myself—one way or another. I'm my own boss. So put that in your pipe and smoke it! You and your orders!"

 

After this declaration of independence, Anna tells the whole story of her past, which Chris tries to deny as a lie. But Mat, at first shocked, then explodes into rage and violence, swinging a chair at her. He moves into "a lamentation that is like a keen," saying that his heart is broken and crying to God for an explanation of His allowing him to live and fall in love with such a whore. Enraged and desperately hurt, Anna orders him out, and Mat swears that he will go on an almighty drunk. Chris then "stupidly" suggests that it is better for Anna to marry Mat now, but the stoker refuses, cursing Anna as he leaves. Chris seems devastated by this new knowledge, but as Anna mockingly suggests that she too should leave, he softens: "Ain't you fault, Anna, Ay know dat. It's dat ole davil sea, do this to me." Even the arrival of Mat out of the fog is perceived as a plot of the sea against him. With that, Anna suggests he go ashore and get drunk; Chris asks if she will stay on the barge, and Anna, in a voice devoid of hope, is noncommittal.

 

Act IV. The cabin of the Simeon Winthrop, the same as Act III, about nine o'clock of a foggy night two days later. Anna is found sitting in a rocking chair, dressed in the tawdry finery of Act I. She looks tired and worn out from sleeplessness. Chris enters, suffering from a bad hangover but carrying a pail of beer. They exchange sympathy, and Chris looks at Anna's suitcase and realizes that she has planned to go back to her life as a prostitute. He also discovers that Anna does indeed love Mat, and she wishes he would return—even if it were to beat her up. Chris says that he will agree to the marriage, if she wants it, and asks her forgiveness, something Anna is quick to do. "There ain't nothing to forgive, anyway. It ain't your fault, and it ain't mine, and it ain't his neither. We're all poor nuts, and things happen, and we yust get mixed in wrong, that's all." Chris seizes on this with his refrain, "It's dat ole davil, sea!" But Anna refuses to accept that. She then returns to Chris's earlier comment that he had "fixed something up" for Anna, and he says that he has decided to give himself back to "dat ole davil" as a kind of ransom for Anna. He has decided to ship as boatswain on the Londonderry bound for Cape Town, South Africa, and in the course of this revelation Anna discovers that Chris has bought a gun. Shocked, Anna takes charge of it, even though Chris says he has not even bought bullets.

 

Chris goes off to bed, nursing his head. Anna waits dejectedly until she hears Mat's footsteps. At first "her face lights up with joy," but then terror seizes her. She grabs the revolver from the drawer in which she had hidden it and shrinks down into a corner out of sight. Mat then flings open the door. Obviously he has been on a monumental binge, and he has been fighting. He looks around, and not seeing Anna, he thinks she has gone. But then he sees her suitcase and thinks that she probably has gone ashore. He instantly suspects that she has gone out as a streetwalker, and again he curses her. At this Anna reveals herself, revolver in hand. She threatens him with it, but Mat is too far gone in despair to care as he advances on her: "Let you end me with a shot and I'll be thanking you, for it's a rotten dog's life I've lived the past two days since I've known what you are, 'til I'm after wishing I was never born at all!" Anna drops the revolver and Mat continues his lament. He is a coward because he cannot bring himself to kill her or forget her. He cannot even stay away from her. He begs her to put him out of his misery and tell him that what she had told him the other day was a lie. "Imploringly," Anna says she cannot do that, but she assures him that she has changed. She had planned to return to New York but has come back to the barge to wait for Mat, and now she begs desperately for his forgiveness. Again Mat rages at her and her past, so Anna orders him out. Mat asks what she plans to do, and Anna says she will return to prostitution: "Don't you see I'm licked? Why do you want to keep kicking me?"

 

She then asks why he hasn't followed his original plan to find "that ship was going to take you to the other side of the earth where you'd never see me again." To Anna's secret and ironical amusement, he has also signed up on the Londonderry. Anna taunts him with references to a "dame" in every port, and Mat swears he is through with women; but Anna asks whether she has been any worse than he in the past. Mat then asks whether she had ever been in love with any of her customers, and Anna stoutly denies it. She begs him to believe her, and Mat clearly wants to believe. As Anna swears that she has changed, Mat wishes that he could bring her to forget her past, which was not really her fault anyway. He brings her to swear an oath on the crucifix given him by his mother that "I'm the only man in the world ivir you felt love for....And that you'll be forgetting from this day all the badness you've done and never do the like of it again." Solemnly, Anna swears, and Mat is joyfully about to kiss her when it occurs to him to ask if she is a Catholic, wondering whether the oath is sound since she is not. Anna disclaims all religious belief, and Mat decides that he must take Anna's "naked word" because he loves her so much. As they embrace and Mat promises they will be married in the morning, Chris appears, looking on the two, first with hatred then with "resignation and relief." He brings out his can of beer and offers a toast of "Skoal!" Revealing that the two of them are to be shipmates, Anna says she will get a little house and make a home for them both. Mat promises Chris a grandchild as soon as possible. Struck with a sudden thought, Mat inquires after the Christopherson' religion. "Ve vas Lutheran in ole country," a comment Mat first greets with horror and then with resignation: "Yerra, what's the difference? Tis the will of God anyway." Chris still persists that "it's dat funny vay old davil sea do her worst dirty tricks, yet. It's so." Mat acquiesces, gloomily; but Anna, "with a determined gaiety," offers another toast for the three of them: "Here's to the sea, no matter what. Be a game sport and drink to that!" Mat "banishes his superstitious premonitions" and drinks, but Chris looks moodily out: "Fog, fog, all bloody time. You can't see vhere you vas going, no. Only dat ole davil, sea—she knows!" The curtain falls as the sound of steamers' whistles is heard from the harbor.

 

© Copyright 1999-2008 eOneill.com