Ken Ludwig was born in York, Pennsylvania, a sizeable town at the tip of the Pennsylvania panhandle on Lake Erie, in 1950. He was educated at York Suburban High School and Haverford College. Choosing the law as his profession, he then went on to Cambridge University in England where he took an LL.M in 1975, followed by Harvard Law School where he was awarded his J.D. in 1976. Since then he has pursued a dual career as playwright and attorney. See more about Ken Ludwig here.
The action of the play takes place in a hotel suite in Cleveland during a hectic Saturday in 1934. The time and place are important for a number of reasons.
First, Ludwig seems to have chosen the year 1934 as a tip of the hat toward his American exemplars, all of whom did their work during the 30s and 40s.
Cleveland, as opposed to New York, provides a less urbane, less cosmopolitan, somewhat more provincial location, the kind of place that would be bowled over by the central events of the play: the arrival of the great Italian tenor, Tito Merelli, and his subsequent failure to appear on stage. The action of the drama, in other words, makes a relatively greater splash in the smaller pond of Cleveland than it would in Caspian Sea of New York.
Most importantly, the action is placed in a hotel suite—one of the classic venues of farce. As George Bernard Shaw said, “The advantage of a hotel is the escape it provides from home life.” And to escape from home is to get out from under the monitoring eyes of spouse, parents, and children, to quit the tepid routines of the daily grind, and to be free to commit mischief. We associate hotels with a variety of naughty behavior, most notably sexual trysts and raucous room-parties. If farce is the story of the struggle between inhibition and self-indulgence, then the hotel suite is its natural home. On the one hand, the suite pretends to provide respectability, offering the promise of home-away-from-home; on the other, it provides the anonymity and freedom that allow naughty hijinks.
And above all, the hotel suite provides lots of doors. As Ludwig notes in his description of the set, there are two adjoining rooms, a kitchenette, a bathroom, and a closet, which together provide “Six doors in all.” Why so many? If farce is a frantic game of hide-and-seek, in which somebody with his pants on is always on the verge of catching somebody else with his pants off, then the door is the indispensable barrier between them. Characters in farce are always hiding behind doors, or banging on them demanding to be let in. The bangers are all sure that what they will find behind the door is something disgraceful; the hiders all know that if the door is opened, exposure and shame will follow. In the words of Jerry Zaks, the director of the first New York production of the play, “If you don’t have a door to hide behind, you’re a goner. . . . Every time a door slams in a farce, it’s for a life-and-death reason. . . . It’s the characters on the other side of those doors who have a real . . . need to connect to someone, or something.” Or, he might have added, a real need to hide.
Like many farces, the plot of Lend Me a Tenor is both simple and complicated. Its basic action is easily stated: A famous Italian tenor, whose appearance on stage in Verdi’s Otello is crucial to the survival of a local opera company, becomes incapacitated and cannot perform. In an act of desperation, the general manager of the company persuades a previously obscure underling to disguise himself as the famous tenor and to sing the role of the Moor in his stead. The underling, a brilliant success, is transformed into a star. He gets the girl, the tenor recovers, and after much confusion, all ends happily.
It’s the “much confusion,” however, that gives the play its energy and its complication—its specific farcical identity.
The confusions arise out of what Jerry Zaks calls the “immutable laws [of] farce,” which dictate that “You establish the comic situation in some reasonable manner, and then keep it constantly changing. The characters have to keep moving, too, which they will do only if they are truly pursuing their needs.” And only, we should note, if some formidable obstacle blocks that pursuit.
And so the opening moments of the play establish the objectives and the impediments that start the action moving. Max, the assistant to the General Manager of the Cleveland Grand Opera Company, waits nervously in the hotel suite that has been reserved for visiting tenor, Tito Merelli. Merelli is to sing that night in the lead role in Verdi’s Otello, thus insuring a rich take at the box office for this benefit performance. The future of the opera company depends on the success of this evening. The time of the afternoon rehearsal draws ever closer, the cast is assembling in the theater, but Merelli has not arrived. And not only is he absent from the hotel suite, but he was also not on the train that was supposed to have brought him to Cleveland, thus putting Max in a growing state of panic.
Meanwhile Max’s girlfriend, Maggie Saunders, daughter of the opera company’s General Manager, eagerly awaits Merelli for a different reason. Having once met “Il Stupendo,” as he is called, on stage after a performance, she become permanently enthralled by him when he kissed the palm of her hand, making her heart thump with sudden ecstasy.
With the arrival of Saunders, the General Manager, the tension increases. For one thing, he absolutely insists that his daughter leave the hotel, perhaps knowing her strong and not quite respectable feelings for the tenor. She refuses; he commands; and Maggie, determined to get her way, filches the key to the suite on her way out.
Saunders knows his fate is on the line, that his career will be ruined should Merelli miss the show.
SAUNDERS. I’ve got a thousand of Cleveland’s so-called cognoscenti arriving at the theater in six hours in black tie, a thirty-piece orchestra, twenty-four chorus, fifteen stagehands and eight principals. . . . Backstage, I have approximately fifty pounds of rotting shrimp mayonnaise, which, if consumed, could turn the Gala Be-A-Sponsor Buffet into a mass murder. . . . All I don’t have is a tenor.
But Max, it turns out, is himself a singer, though his gifts are neither well-known nor appreciated. When he offers to fill in for the missing Merelli, Saunders dismisses him with ridicule. What, he asks, would he say to the expectant audience? That Merelli is absent, but that he has the “privilege to announce that the role of Otello will be sung tonight by a somewhat gifted amateur making his very first appearance on this, or indeed any other stage.” Obviously not a workable option.
The situation is saved by a telephone call—from Merelli as it turns out—who is waiting in the lobby of the hotel. As Saunders goes to fetch the important guest, Maggie slips back into the suite using the purloined key and hides, first in the bathroom, then in the closet, bringing the all-important doors into play.
Tito and his wife, Maria, enter—the tenor desperately needing to use the “john” because, as his infuriated spouse explains, “He eats-a like a fat-a pig.” Mostly, she says, because he wants to see the waitress’s bosoms as she leans over to serve the food. So she is angry both at his infantile bolting of food and drink, and his lecherous interest in other women.
As Tito tries to recover from his excesses at lunch, Max reveals to Il Stupendo his own ambitions as a singer. Tito is sympathetic, and demonstrates to Max how he must relax before singing by shaking himself, ridding his body of all its tension. Miraculously, this technique works, and Max is transformed into a singer every bit as good as his teacher.
While they are having their singing lesson, Merelli consumes more and more wine, and swallows huge amounts of Phenobarbital. In the adjoining room his wife grows ever more agitated and incensed as she considers his womanizing and infidelity, deciding finally that she must leave him. She packs her bags, writes a farewell note, and opens the closet to grab her coat, only to find there the hidden Maggie, yet another instance of her husband’s endless train of women.
Having consumed much wine and many pills, Tito feels ready to sleep. But when he enters the sleeping room from the sitting room, he finds his wife’s farewell note. Distraught, he runs around the suite threatening suicide, with Max following after him offering consolation. Finally Tito, with Max singing to him, falls into a profound slumber, thus ending the first scene.
As the next scene opens, Diana, the soprano who is to sing with Merelli that evening, arrives at the hotel, eager to meet the great man. Diana is both talented and beautiful, and eager to exploit her sexual charms to advance her career. But Max turns her away, knowing that Tito will need all his energies for Verdi. Diana leaves, and there follows the first major reversal in the play: Max, attempting to wake the sleeping Tito, finds Maria’s letter: “By the time you get this, I’ll be gone forever.” He mistakes this for a suicide note from Tito, and frantically tries to rouse the inert tenor. Failing, he concludes that Il Stupendo is dead. (Why an Italian-speaking wife would write to her Italian-speaking husband in English is not explained. This detail is what is sometimes called a “gimme,” an improbability the author hopes the audience will overlook either because they won’t notice, or because the overall momentum of the plot makes it irrelevant.)
At this point Saunders returns expecting to escort his guest to the theater. When Max informs his boss that the tenor is dead, Saunders is collapses into desperation, anticipating chaos and resentment among the disappointed audience, indeed a “thundering orgy of insane violence!” But a glimmer of hope presents itself to Saunders when he realizes that none of the other members of the cast has met Merelli, who skipped the afternoon rehearsal, and who was shielded by Max from the amorous Diana. If he could find someone unknown to the cast to impersonate Merelli perhaps all would be well. And who would that person be but Max, a tenor himself, who, dressed up in Merelli’s costume and wearing Moorish blackface, would never be recognized by the other singers.
A reluctant Max agrees to this seemingly harebrained scheme and disappears into the bathroom to change into Tito’s costume while additional visitors gather in the suite to meet the master before the performance. Saunders staves them all off, relying on the bathroom door to keep his secret. Max emerges, resplendent in the costume of Othello, but in a fit of nerves confides to Saunders that he is incapable after all of pulling off the ruse. Defeated, Saunders announces to a distraught roomful of people that Il Stupendo is indisposed and will not perform. A heartbroken Maggie appeals directly to Tito/Max, begging him to go on stage. Max, despite his terror, cannot resist his sweetheart’s tearful supplications, and he capitulates. He will sing after all, he announces, to the cheers of all. Max gathers himself together and exits majestically to a swell of music and an imaginary thunder of applause. A moment after the door slams, the recumbent Tito sits up in bed, not dead in the least, and looks around groggily, wondering what has happened as the curtain falls on the first act.
Act II begins later that night, at 11 p.m., back in the hotel suite after the performance of Otello. Julia, the Chairman of the Opera Guild, and Maggie are waiting to congratulate Tito whose singing, says Maggie, was “wonderful.” More importantly says Julia it was, “box-office all the way.” Max, the pseudo-Merelli, has carried off the deception brilliantly. The only problem with the evening, the ladies learn over the phone, is that “some lunatic dressed as Otello tried to get into the theatre tonight” claiming to be Il Stupendo. The revived Tito, it seems, has dressed himself in his spare costume, run off to the opera house, and been taken for an imposter. He is now being sought by the police for impersonating himself.
When the still-costumed Max arrives, he finds Maggie in the suite alone. Maggie, long smitten by Merelli, soon passes from politeness to passion, as the pair fall into one another’s arms in a sizzling kiss. At which point her father, Saunders, bangs on the door to the suite creating the classic farcical moment: somebody trying to barge in, somebody else desperate to keep him out. Maggie manages to compose herself after her moment of abandon, and leaves her father alone with Max, who now feels he can demand starring roles in all the company’s productions in the coming year. Gloating over the night’s triumph, Saunders is in a mood to grant favors as he tells Max to remember that from now on, “Absolutely nothing can go wrong.”
At which moment the real Merelli bursts into the adjoining room, still in Otello costume, the exact replica of Max. This cloning becomes the heart of the comic action for the rest of the play. As in Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, identical twins remain unaware of each other’s presence while everyone continually mistakes one for the other. Especially mistaken are the amorous women in the play.
First Julia arrives to beseech Tito—the real Tito as it happens—to put in an appearance at the post-show reception. When he feigns consent, she begs to be allowed to show her gratitude in some way. Lowering her voice to a sexy growl, she says “I only wish there was something I could do for you. . . . Can you think of anything?” The exhausted and confused tenor has only the briefest reply, “Yeah. Go.” Next Diana, the ambitious soprano, shows up in “the slinkiest, most inviting dress imaginable.” Tito has no idea of her identity, much less the fact that she is a singer. But she relentlessly presses him for his responses to her performance, which, as she describes it, sounds more and more like a sexual encounter. Tito, having no idea how to respond, evades her questions, until Diana, desperate for his opinion, begs him to speak his mind: “I can take it, believe me, Tito. I’m a professional.” Given the equivocal nature of this entire encounter, Merelli takes the word “professional” to refer not to her singing abilities, but to her sexual habits. She is a prostitute, thinks Tito, and decides that he must have had a drunken fling with her that he doesn’t remember. So on the conversation goes, with Diana talking about singing and Tito hearing sex.
DIANA. Of course my mother was in the business.
Once again, just as things are heating up sexually on stage, there is a knock on the door. This time it’s Maggie, back to resume the interrupted kiss with her tenor. As Tito lets her in, Diana enters the bathroom with a promise to return wearing something more comfortable.
Another equivocal conversation ensues involving another misunderstanding. Merelli thinks Maggie has come for an autograph; Maggie thinks Merelli and she are about to make love.
TITO. It’s no big deal, eh? I do it all the time.
As Tito scribbles away with his back to her, Maggie removes her clothes, confronting him, when he turns around, in her underwear. She grabs Il Stupendo, pushes him down onto the sofa, and embraces him madly. As we have come to expect at moments like these, there is another knock at the door. This time it’s Saunders, Maggie’s father. Panic-stricken, the half-clad daughter dashes out of the sitting room and into the bedroom where she hides in the closet.
Saunders has come to tell Max that the police, in search of the supposed Merelli-imposter, are likely to question him. However he delivers his message not to Max but to a still-uncomprehending Merelli, whom Saunders convinces to wait in his bedroom, where he will meet with the police. Max, Saunders insists, will answer their questions in his phony Italian accent, thus avoiding the discovery of their deception.
Just as Saunders is settling Merelli in the bedroom, someone begins banging on the corridor door to the sitting room. Saunders opens it and there finds—Max. After a “Who’s on First” brouhaha about who was at what door when, Saunders and Max suddenly realize that the real Tito must still be alive. Saunders decides he must find the tenor and pay him off to keep quiet about the whole escapade, leaving Max in the suite, with Maggie in the closet and Diana in the bathroom--both women anticipating a bout of amore with Il Stupendo.
After a convoluted series of comings and goings, the two Otellos, still in costume and still unaware of each other, wind up in separate beds with the two women, Max with Maggie in one room, Merelli with Diana in the other. With their passionate, and simultaneous, climaxes comes the end of the scene.
The following scene begins where the last one left off. Maggie and Diana exit to freshen up. Tito rises from bed when he hears Max in the next room singing. He tiptoes through the door and sees his double, Max, pouring champagne. At that moment Tito “realizes there’s a fair possibility that he’s lost his mind. . . . he doesn’t want an explanation; he just wants out.” Tito leaves, the women return to find only a single lover whom they both claim. The tension escalates, and the women, feeling betrayed by this boudoir master who seems to have the power of bi-locality, chase the hapless Max around the room until he hides in the bathroom. As he cowers behind the door, Tito’s wife, Maria, returns looking for her husband. Maggie and Diana explain what has happened and tell Maria that her prodigious spouse is in the bathroom. Just as they are about to batter down the door, the real Tito arrives, pursued by Saunders, Julia, and the Bellhop. Now everyone assumes that the Tito lookalike in the bathroom must be the lunatic who tried to break into the theater earlier, and they steel themselves for a violent confrontation when he emerges. Slowly the door opens and out comes—Max, now dressed in white tie and tails, an outfit he had left in the bathroom in the previous scene.
Max and Tito enjoy a happy reunion; Tito, still lost, begs his wife to take him away, and all the others follow him, clamoring for his attention—except for Maggie who remains behind with Max. She has guessed, somewhat ruefully, that the man she made love to in the hotel room was her unglamorous boyfriend, and not Il Stupendo of the heart-fluttering palm-kiss. But she imagines that it was Max who tried to break into the theater disguised as Merelli. She has no idea that it was he onstage who thrilled her with his passion, until Max kisses her palm, opens his mouth, and begins to sing. As the light dawns, she “throws her arms around him and they kiss. Bells peal out loudly through the final orchestral swell as . . . THE CURTAIN FALLS.”
We don’t look for complexity in the characters in a farce. Far from being complex, each character pursues one or two overriding objectives with unremitting force. Each is clearly defined by these objectives; and we see in each more of a type than an individual. Thus Philip Bosco, who played Saunders in the original New York production, defined his role as, “the Adolphe Menjou part—the flustered major domo, the harassed newspaper editor, the harried corporate executive. . . . What he really is . . . is Dad at his wit’s end, trying to cope with all the comic entanglements of his substitute family.” Jane Connell, who played Julia in the same production, described her part as “the WASP pouter-pigeon lady.” The actors themselves, we see, boil their roles down to a well-known essence, which can be expressed in a simple phrase.
MAX. Max’s overriding goals are to be a successful opera singer and to woo Maggie. Like all successful dramatic characters, he meets formidable obstacles to these goals. The first is his own personality, the diffident and unassuming self he shows to the world. Saunders cites this when he dismisses Max’s early suggestion that he substitute for Merelli: “Otello, Max. He’s huge. He’s larger than life. He loves with a passion that rocks the heavens. . . . His tragedy is the fate of tortured greatness. . . . It isn’t you, Max.” Instead, again in Saunders’s words, Max is a “somewhat gifted amateur. . . . our company’s very own factotum, gopher and all-purpose dogsbody.” Not, in other words, a forceful person, but a flunkey whose whole identity lies in doing the bidding of others.
Max reinforces this sense of his character when he tells Tito, “Whenever I sing in front of people, I—I get tense. I tighten up. I can’t help it.” Insignificant in the eyes of others, he is also inadequate in his own mind, frightened to expose his weakness to others.
The major obstacle to his pursuit of Maggie is her infatuation with Merelli. The memory of the sweaty, post-show hero who kissed her palm eclipses the real presence of poor Max.
In order to overcome these obstacles, Max must learn self-confidence, which the richly endowed Merelli teaches him. Together they burst into beautiful song, Max proving to himself that he can do it. But when Saunders begs him to go onstage as Merelli, he again falters, terrified of being exposed as an untalented fraud. It is only when Maggie, thinking he is Merelli, begs him to perform that he consents, realizing that he would lose all standing in her eyes if he were to let his cowardice overcome him. So his desire for Maggie is the final goad that helps him to overcome the obstacle of his own insecurity.
Paradoxically, what enables him to succeed romantically with Maggie is his disguise as Tito. Maggie makes love to Max thinking he is Merelli. Indeed there is something paradoxical and incomplete about all of Max’s successes on this insane evening, since he achieves all of them while pretending to be someone else. And although Maggie finally comes to realize that it was with Max that she had her “fling,” and that it was Max who thrilled her in the theater, the world at large will never recognize his achievement as Otello. So in the end the insignificant “dogsbody” and “gopher” remains anonymous. The future, however, holds promise for Max, and we can see a real change in his character by the play’s end as he states his demands for starring roles with the company forthrightly and with complete self-confidence.
MERELLI. Tito’s goals are the most ludicrous of any character in the Play. Aristotle defines the ludicrous as “a subdivision of the ugly. . . . some defect or ugliness which is not painful or destructive.” The ludicrous, in other words, involves suffering or evil of a non-serious nature. A brain tumor is serious; a hangover is ludicrous—and because it is so, we are free to laugh at it.
What Tito seeks above all in the first scene of the play is relief from the bellyache he caused himself by gorging at lunch. In pursuit of that goal he drinks wine, swallows pills, and falls into a stupor. When he wakes up, his major goal is to escape from the uproar caused by his overindulgence.
A third objective, less ludicrous that the other two, is his desire to make peace with his angry wife. She is furious at him for a number of reasons, including his infantile self-indulgence, his fatigue-induced failure to warm up the marriage bed, and, that fault notwithstanding, his incessant womanizing. Although Tito begs for forgiveness and reconciliation in pursuit of this goal, he does nothing to change his behavior. Instead he drinks yet more wine, and beds yet another stranger. His voraciousness, it seems, far outweighs the more serious objective of marital harmony.
But his great appetites are matched by great generosity. This is particularly clear in the singing lesson he gives Max, urging the hesitant “dogsbody” to “relax . . . be you,” and showing him the secret of the self-shake as the indispensable tool for achieving comfort and self confidence. Tito is also generous towards the timid Maggie who, he mistakenly imagines, comes to solicit his autograph.
Overall, however, Tito is not so much a figure who pursues important dramatic goals as he is a cause of desire in others. Everybody wants a piece of Il Stupendo: all the women desire him, all the men admire or need him, and Max virtually becomes him. He is the focus of other people’s energy, the hub around which the wheel of this farce madly turns.
SAUNDERS. As Philip Bosco notes, Saunders can be summed up in a phrase: “the harried corporate executive.” His driving goal is for the benefit performance of Otello to be a success. Compared to that imperative, almost nothing else matters. In fact, when it appears that Tito has died before the performance, Saunders shows not a moment’s grief or even regret on behalf of the singer, but is instead enraged that his plans might be thwarted.
SAUNDERS. Italian bastard. I knew he’d get me. (To TITO) Are you satisfied!? HUH!?. . . (Climbing on to the bed and shaking TITO violently in a rage.) ARE YOU PROUD OF YOURSELF!!?? FEEL BETTER NOW!!?? AHHHHHHH!!! . . . . Why me? He could have waited until tomorrow. He could have jumped out of the window after breakfast.
So absorbed is Saunders in his own problems that he can view Tito’s death only as a blow to himself, a personal insult delivered by the dead man as an act of spite.
Saunders has one other objective, and that is to keep his daughter, Maggie, on a short leash. As a jealous father he is one in a long line of such comic characters stretching back to Greece and Rome. There is scarcely a play in the tradition of western comedy that doesn’t feature a frazzled and irascible father standing in the way of his children’s fulfillment. Plautus and Moliere are full of them, and they even turn up in tragedy, as witness Polonius, whose major concern about his daughter is to keep her away from Hamlet.
MAGGIE. According to the stage directions, she is in her “late twenties, pretty and quirky” and she is discovered at the rise of the curtain listening to a radio broadcast of Tito in full-throated song. “She is entirely caught up in the sensual sound of the tenor’s voice. She sways to the music and mouths the words. . . . she’s swaying in rapture. The aria ends and MAGGIE falls backward.” Young, pretty, and enthralled by Tito, Maggie’s major objective is to have “something special. . . . Something wonderful and romantic,” before she considers accepting Max’s proposal of marriage. And that something is a “fling” with Il Stupendo. With Max, the closest she has come to a “fling” is spending thirty hours drifting in a rowboat because he lost the oars.
“Max, listen,” Maggie says, “Let’s be honest. When you kiss me, do you hear anything? Special? . . . Like . . . bells.” Max, of course, does not, and so she continues her search for the magic peal. When she finally hears it in the arms of the man she thinks is Tito, we know that it’s really Max who is ringing her bell. And she comes to realize it too, and to realize that it was also Max whose performance sent “a shock . . . through the audience” and made her weep. As the play ends and she recognizes how wonderful Max really is, she has a moment of insight not unlike Dorothy’s at the end of The Wizard of Oz. “Auntie Em,” says Dorothy, “there’s no place like home.”
DIANA, JULIA, MARIA, BELLHOP. Each of these characters is fixated on Tito.
Diana sees in him a passport to success in her career as a singer, so she stalks him relentlessly, finally getting him into bed, only to discover that all her efforts have been for nothing.
Julia is smitten by Tito’s glamor as an artist and by his sex appeal. She sees her position as Chairman of the Opera Guild as entitling her to special attention from their guest star. This she pursues to the very end, following him out of the room for his final exit begging for “just five minutes, that’s all I need! . . . Tito! Please!”
Tito’s wife, Maria, has more complex motives than these other women. While they simply desire him, her love is mixed with a large portion of fury. As she says, “In my heart, he makes a-me sick.” This push-pull between repulsion and attraction is expressed directly in her actions: in the first act she walks out on Tito; in the second, she returns to him.
The Bellhop is Merelli’s adoring fan, the representative of the many thousands like him who crowd the tenor’s path wherever he goes. He simply wants to see and speak to the great man, to bring him wine and compliments, to get his autograph. Like everyone else in the play, he seeks a piece of Il Stupendo.
All farces are about desires thwarted and finally fulfilled. All farces are about illicit behavior constantly threatened with exposure. Sex, ambition, rabid appetites of every kind drive the characters of farce through the indispensable doors, forcing them to hide or to seek; some barging in, some hurrying out; some peeking timidly through a keyhole, some pounding at the gate like the angel of doom.
According to Jerry Zaks, “the fun part [about farce] is when the characters don’t get whatever it is they desperately want. That happens . . . whenever the characters’ different needs clash, or when obstacles prevent them from making their connections, or when they just get confused. That’s when we can enjoy their frustrations. That’s when they feel like slamming doors.” And that’s one of the times the audience laughs. The other laugh-moment, says Zaks, comes when the characters in fact do get what they want: “The laugh then becomes a little celebration that the audience shares with a character who overcomes an obstacle, makes a connection, or satisfies a need.”
In Lend Me a Tenor the most sympathetic characters avoid exposure and punishment while having their desires fulfilled. Max gets away with impersonating Tito and he gets Maggie. Maggie’s “fling” is never discovered by her father, and she winds up with a Max she could never have imagined at the beginning of the play. Saunders, overbearing though he is, is nonetheless rewarded for his desperate improvisations by the success of the performance. The scheming Diana, on the other hand, though she gets Tito between the sheets, totally fails to turn her sexual conquest to her long-term advantage.
Il Stupendo himself is largely unaware of what has actually happened, so he experiences neither fulfillment nor exposure, merely an enormous shock of confusion.
The other theme treated in the play is equally venerable in the comic tradition, especially in plays about show business: the triumph of the understudy. Max—and all his forbears—represent the universal longing of aspiring performers everywhere: to be noticed, to be given a chance, to succeed. The irony is that Max succeeds as someone else, as Tito and not as himself.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION.
1. Does Tito Merelli resemble any contemporary opera stars?
2. Why are the women in the play so attracted to him?
3. Why is his wife so angry with him?
4. What does Tito teach Max?
5. Which character seems to learn most about him- or herself?
6. Which character seems to learn the least?
7. Do you think it would be possible in real life to carry off such a trick as substituting Max for Tito?
8. How would the feeling of the play change if Tito really did die?
9. Are there everyday ways of pretending to be someone else that don’t involve disguises and fake accents?
10. Do you think it’s right for Max to exploit his fake identity as a way of seducing Maggie? Do you think it’s right for Maggie to throw herself at the man she imagines is Tito?