It begins in a sitting room in an Italian palazzo, empty, save for a wooden crate of Coca Cola, and Virgil Knockerbicker, a youngish American, sitting in a window seat. He is dressed in black and reads a black notebook. He is soon joined by his older brother, Homer, who is overweight and suffering in the heat of the Italian summer. He complains to Virgil who replies despondently, if wittily. They are awaiting the arrival of Merry, Homer’s wife, who, according to her custom is alone in their bedroom. She does not allow her husband to see her in the morning until she has face on.
There is the vague insinuation that Homer is henpecked. He is called away to answer the door. Merry comes out and chats with Virgil then leaves to find Homer. The maid has beaten Homer to the door and brings in Angelo Lumaca, an Italian. He talks to Virgil and it is revealed that Virgil is a homosexual and is writing a poem in his book. Homer and Merry return and make small talk with Angelo, about how they are modernizing the palazzo to make it more comfortable for Merry. Angelo turns out to be the waste disposal unit repairman, come to repair the fancy American waste disposal unit Homer has imported. Homer takes him to the kitchen.
Merry watches the chickens in the yard and is offended by the behavior of one of the roosters, whom she calls degenerate. To distract her, Homer brings her to the kitchen to watch Angelo at work. Homer returns and Virgil reads his unfinished poem to him. It is an ode to The American Woman. It is at this point the play starts to turn in its unexpected direction. The poem is an assessment of “The American Woman” partially based on Merry and contains lines like “The American Woman would rather be a lovely person/ Than be herself.”
The reading of the poem is interrupted by the sudden arrival of Angelo. He reports that Merry has been disposed of by the disposal unit when she was somehow drawn into it while inspecting his work. Before any can quite respond, Merry’s mother (meant to be played by the same actress) enters looking for Merry. She talks in long monologue about surprising Merry. She surmises that Merry must be in the kitchen and while searching for Merry, she too is disposed of by the disposal. Angelo is shocked, but Virgil and Homer cheer and dance and sing, joined, after a bit, by Angelo who sings, “La donna á mobile” and Virgil ends the play by calling the disposal unit “the ultimate triumph of American technology.”
Well. All of this caught me quite by surprise. The tone is very light, sort of Noel Cowardish with a certain wit. Although Homer is somewhat fawning in his behavior towards Merry, there is nothing of the harridan or shrew about her. In fact, she seems quite charming, if a little peculiar. All the characters are interesting. Virgil doesn’t seem to bear her any animosity. His poem is strangely, suddenly anti-female, but it does not start that way. There is also an implication that his homosexuality might motivate this, but how or why I do not know. I think it was meant to be comedic. Perhaps the audience is not meant to sympathize with Virgil, Homer and Angelo at the end, but that is not sense that pervades. I honestly don’t know what to make of it. Very odd. Brigid, you let us down.