The first act's protagonist, Clive is the model British aristocrat, at least at first glance. He puts his duty to country above all else and expects those that depend on him to behave according to his will. Clive believes that sex-roles are clearly defined and refuses to accept otherwise, expecting his son Edward to be just as masculine as he is. Almost daily, Clive struggles to keep his family proper and intact. He is a racist who believes the African natives to be "savages" that can only be tamed by his firm British discipline. Although his principles may seem clear, Clive does engage in an affair with Mrs. Saunders, breaking the standard of fidelity that he tries to impose upon his wife Betty.
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In the first act, Betty, played by a man, spends most of her time confused and incapable of making any decisions of her own. She relies totally upon her husband Clive to provide direction in her life. Betty does not, however, lack a sense of adventure. She dreams of a relationship with Harry, wondering what life might be like outside of her own. Betty remains caught between her duty to family and her yearning for romance.
In Act II, a new Betty, played by a new actor, acquires a sense of independence and evolves into the play's protagonist. This Betty is older, however, and prone to long-winded lectures and unsolicited comment. The new Betty finds independence intriguing, but frightening and her relationship to her children Victoria and Edward often seems to be the only thing to keep her sane.
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At a young age, Edward (played by a woman in Act I) discovers a proclivity for feminine things and an attraction to other males. However, he keeps his yearnings in check for fear of upsetting his conservative father. These fears subside, but do not disappear as Edward grows up. The older Edward of Act II (played by a man) finds that he fits well into the role of mother and wife. He prefers steady companionship to promiscuity, but has difficulty asserting himself to get what he wants.
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Victoria, although unimportant to the first act (perhaps because she is played by a dummy) emerges as a central figure of the play in the second act. Like others in her family, Victoria is prone to dependence but has moments of self- reliance. Victoria is usually non-confrontational, preferring the role of peace- maker. She feels pain and uncertainty in her search for identity.
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On the surface, Harry, a British explorer, represents British courage and discovery. However, Harry's acclaim as an explorer masks a deviant sexual appetite. Harry's presence, while seemingly harmless, begins to bring out the deep sexual leanings of the members of Clive's family. Ultimately, Harry is as much a victim to his actions as the others. He sacrifices his freedom to avoid persecution for his homosexuality.
Mrs. Saunders, a widow, exhibits a unique sovereignty in a world where women are expected to be dutiful mothers and wives. She is unafraid to wield her sexuality, and she demands respect from the men with whom she comes into contact. Mrs. Saunders has a sense of justice and does not readily accept British tradition and the habits of colonialists.
Lin is a brash lesbian, unafraid to let others know where she stands. Nevertheless, beneath her combativeness, Lin is hurt and uncertain about her ability to be a good mother. She is crass and stubborn at first, but does allow those whom she cares about to get below the surface.
Sex-obsessed Martin likes to think aloud, working out his relationship to wife Victoria in long speeches. Martin often feels incompetent and frustrates himself by over-thinking his sex life. He demonstrates a tendency to think for others, which can offend those with whom he comes into contact. Martin does have a giving side, which he demonstrates in his relationship to Lin's daughter Cathy and his own son Tommy.
Ellen, Edward's governess, possesses a strong sense of duty to Clive's family. She is also dependent upon them and afraid of being sent away. Ellen, too, is working out her sexuality, and nervously tests her attraction to Betty at times. Ultimately, Ellen cannot reconcile her desires with her lot in life, and thus remains unhappy.
A promiscuous homosexual, Gerry has trouble staying in any one place for too long. His relationships fail because of his distaste for commitment. Gerry would like companionship but is reluctant to give up his freedoms.
Honest, reliable and dutiful, Joshua appears to be the perfect servant. He betrays his people to be with Clive. Underneath Joshua's loyalty, however, anger ferments. He is loyal only for personal gain, and his loyalty stops when his real family is threatened.
Cathy, a five year old girl played by a man, is not exactly normal, to say the least. For her age, Cathy has a remarkable knowledge of inappropriate words and phrases. She seems to harbor aggression, making her susceptible to occasional outbursts. Her disposition derives, in part, from her fear that her mother Lin will leave her. Cathy's desire to fit in drives most of her actions throughout Act II.
Always a traditionalist, Maud encourages the women around her to behave as she does. She has a penchant for crankiness when her relatives fall out of line, insisting, "she knows best." Maud adheres to the notion that women are meant to serve and honor their husbands by taking care of the home. She is a well- intentioned mother and grandmother, but her values seem outdated as her guidance often falls upon deaf ears.