Edward Albee

Tiny Alice

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Tiny Alice Summary

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Tiny Alice is an existential play by American author Edward Albee. First performed in New York in 1964, it befuddled critics and casual playgoers alike with its symbolic use of characters, unconventional and ambiguous uses of dialogue, and commentary on sexuality and spirituality. The play follows a rich and powerful widow referred to simply as “Miss Alice” who gifts a large sum of money to the Church in exchange for influence over its inner workings. The Church sends a Cardinal’s secretary named Julian to live with Miss Alice, her butler (“Butler”), and her lawyer (“Lawyer”). Julian discovers that the three people are merely servants to “Tiny Alice,” a figure who allegedly lives in a huge replica of Miss Alice’s mansion inside the mansion itself.

The play opens in a garden on an estate owned by the Catholic Church. Lawyer speaks to two cardinals (the kind of bird), senselessly, until the Church’s Cardinal appears. Cardinal and Lawyer discuss having gone to school together and the fact that they have never gotten along. Both of them disparage each other’s career paths, chalking them up to character failures. At length, they begin to speak about Lawyer’s boss, Miss Alice, who is planning to give “two billion” in an unnamed currency to the Church. Cardinal is thrilled, and arranges for his secretary Julian to visit Miss Alice and finalize the details.

The next scene starts in Miss Alice’s library. The library contains a model of the mansion itself that is eighteen feet high. Butler arrives, and asks whether anyone is inside the mini-mansion. Julian, now disturbed, takes care to confirm that no one is inside. Lawyer enters and tells Julian that he knows about his “history.” He disparages Cardinal again, whom Julian steps in to defend. Julian admits that in his own past, he doubted God and checked himself into a mental hospital. He now believes that faith is equivalent to a form of sanity. A bell sounds, announcing that Miss Alice is ready to see him.

The next scene begins in Miss Alice’s office. Julian enters and sees an elderly woman. Her appearance confuses him, since he was told Miss Alice was a young woman. Miss Alice removes a wig and mask, revealing her beautiful young self, and says she was playing a game. Alice asks Julian’s opinion of Lawyer and Butler. She explains that she and Butler were once sexual partners, and that she has occasional sex with Lawyer, but finds his personality repulsive. She asks Julian about his past, and he repeats his story of falling out of touch with God. Alice inquires into his sexual past, and he responds that while in the mental hospital, he had a vision in which he had sex with the Virgin Mary, who may have actually been another patient.

Act II begins in chaos. Miss Alice rushes into the library with Lawyer in close chase. Lawyer is upset that Julian has become a constant houseguest, and wants the philanthropic deal to be over. He accuses her of sleeping with Julian. Miss Alice tells Lawyer that she hates him, but lets him touch her sexually while doing so. Butler and Julian return, and Julian sees that the model mansion is on fire. Through a window, Butler sees the chapel burning in the distance. They both rush off to put the fire out. Miss Alice says a bizarre prayer in an attempt to prevent the fire, which appears to save both the mansion and the chapel. Julian returns and asks what happened; Miss Alice says that she does not know.

In the second scene of Act 2, Butler and Lawyer pretend to be Lawyer and Cardinal, respectively, and role play the conversation that they hope Lawyer has with the real Cardinal confirming the philanthropic donation. The mock meeting digresses into a nonsensical philosophical discussion about God. In scene 3, Miss Alice teases Julian for his sexual innocence, admits that she is attracted to him, then asks him to marry her. At the end of Act 3, shortly after their marriage, Julian has cold feet and expresses a desire to leave. Miss Alice replies that he has not married her, but a different Alice whom she merely represents. When he tries to leave to check himself into the hospital again, Lawyer shoots him. Miss Alice laments that they all seem stuck in an eternally recurring story, and gives the dying Julian over to the Alice within the model house. Julian announces, to a mannequin wearing Alice’s old lady wig, that he accepts it as God. He dies with his arms splayed, as if crucified. The play’s existentialist ending borders on nihilism and absurdism, suggesting that one’s God is selected arbitrarily.