The play concerns the Enterprise family, a caricature of the “All America Family”: Grace, the mother, worried, submissive, concerned with propriety; Barry, the father, blustery, anxious, concerned with masculinity; and their two sons, the infant Will and the eponymous Arnold. Will is payed by a baby carriage. The family has a black maid, Millie, who bristles with hostility at every entrance, causing Barry and Grace to freeze uncomfortably. It begins with Grace and Barry showing a young woman slides of Will. This is Miss Sympathy, a social worker who has been brought in to help Arnold who’s behavior has been erratic of late.
With the arrival of Will, Arnold has regressed and has begun crawling again. The main issue is that Arnold is an adult man with a job. His crawling happens only around the house and it is driving his parents nuts. The play takes place on the day of the big air raid drill that the elder Enterprises have spent months anticipating and preparing for. They have a very elaborate fallout shelter they've been practicing in. When the siren sounds everyone except Arnold runs to the fallout shelter in the basement. Millie manages to secure herself in the shelter, leaving Arnold’s parents and Will outside of it, demanding that Millie will let them in.
Arnold and Miss Sympathy are left alone together. This gives her a chance to delve into Arnold's psychosis. The two chat about Arnold’s need to flout societal norms. He confesses to doing something ‘naughty’ on his way home. The conversation turns to seduction, and as Arnold unbuttons Miss Sympathy’s blouse, she worries the all clear will sound. He informs her that the naughty thing he has done was to disable the all clear siren.
Thus the play ends. Its’ a pretty good play. I didn’t remember it that well. There is a vaguely sexist element in it when Arnold admits to seducing the last four social workers the his parents have brought to the house. This lends a kind “gamesmanship” to his seduction which makes it a little less fun and spontaneous. Otherwise Miss Sympathy is a nicely realized character. Millie has two lines. The parents are very broad. Arnold remains a cipher. His rebellion feels random and one wishes there were something heroic or subversive about it, but it just kind of hangs there, half formed. Perhaps it is just a ploy to seduce random social workers.
There’s a lot of funny Durang-ish dialogue: when Miss Sympathy hears Arnold began crawling after his brother’s birth, she writes a note, “Sibling rivalry,” then, when told that Arnold is thirty-five, she amends her note with, “Advanced sibling rivalry.” That sort of tone. It’s pretty good.