The family whose story is told is an intact nuclear family. It is clear they are not special because they are intact and functioning--they're average, like everyone else. Everyone works hard--cleaning woman, chauffer--and everyone has dreams.
But I must tell you of the small moment that was actually a big moment. (There's a possible spoiler coming up, so if you don't know the story and mean to see the play, stop here.) An important moment in the plot is when a character announces she is pregnant, and considering having an abortion. In fact, she tells her mother-in-law, she's already put $5 down with the local abortionist. It is a dramatic moment. And you know as you watch it that when this play came out in 1960 it was received by the audience as a painful moment--a cry of pain from a woman who's tired of hoping that life will turn out well.
But this is the thing: Our audience didn't know that. They didn't understand it was tragic. They heard the young woman say she was about to end the life of her child, and they applauded. Some of them cheered. It was stunning. The reaction seemed to startle the actors on stage, and shake their concentration. I was startled. I turned to my friend. "We have just witnessed a terrible cultural moment," I said. "Don't I know it," he responded.
And I can't tell you how much that moment hurt. To know that the members of our audience didn't know that the taking of a baby's life is tragic--that the taking of your own baby's life is beyond tragic, is almost operatic in its wailing woe.
But our audience didn't know. They reacted as if abortion were a political question. They thought that the fact that the young woman was considering abortion was a sign of liberation. They thought this cry of pain was in fact a moment of self-actualizing growth.
Afterwards, thinking about it, I said to my friend, "When that play opened that plot point was understood--they knew it was tragic. And that was only what, 40 years ago." He said, "They would have known it was tragic even 25 years ago."
And it gave me a shiver because I knew it was true.