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Synopsis: Relative Values

 

It is Saturday afternoon in the library of Marshwood House, East Kent, England. Crestwell, the butler; Alice, the housemaid; and Moxie, the countess of Marshwood’s personal maid, are discussing the upcoming marriage of Nigel, the earl of Marshwood, to Miranda Frayle, a thoroughly American actress. Alice is thrilled with the idea that she may actually see a famous actress. Crestwell, although concerned about the class distinctions between the intendeds, covers his concern with flippancy. Moxie seems to be taking it the hardest, at one point bursting into tears and insisting that the moment Miranda walks into the house, she will walk out.

They are soon joined by Felicity (the countess), Cynthia Hayling, John Hayling, and Peter Ingleton. They have also obviously been discussing the unequal pairing of Nigel and Miranda. After the visitors all leave, Moxie meets alone with Felicity and announces that she must leave the household immediately and permanently. She feels she can no longer stay at Marshwood because Nigel’s fiancée is not only from a different class, but she is Moxie’s younger sister!

Felicity wants Moxie to stay with her, but sees no easy solutions. After all, if she stays, Nigel’s sister-in-law would be his mother’s maid. For Moxie to be socially equal to her sister, she must be a member of the family. Thus, over Moxie’s original objections, they decide to make her an heiress living with the family. It is all agreed, and Moxie hurries off to change, just as Nigel and Miranda are arriving.

The second act begins with guests arriving for that evening’s dinner, including Miranda and Moxie, dressed up now and acting as a member of the aristocracy. All goes well, until Miranda begins to tell about her supposed “past.” Of course, Felicity and Moxie know that most of this story is a lie. Just as dinner is about to end, Don Lucas, Miranda’s old Hollywood flame, arrives, demanding to see Miranda. Crestwell brings her to the library, where she and Don Lucas quarrel. He wants her back, but she insists she is going to marry Nigel. Convinced at the end, Don Lucas embraces Miranda one more time before leaving—just as Felicity enters the room.

Felicity, over the objections of Miranda, invites Don to spend the night. Emotions deteriorate from there, with Nigel angry that Don is here, Miranda angry at both Don and Nigel, and Felicity reveling in the turn of events. Moxie, however, can take it no more. She reveals who she really is, castigates her sister for her lies, and announces that she is leaving in the morning.

In the third act Felicity takes over. She engineers various stories and “chance” meetings until Miranda is back in Don’s arms and leaving for good, Nigel is admittedly content with the new situation, and Moxie is going to stay on. Crestwell concludes the play by toasting “the final inglorious disintegration of the most unlikely dream that ever troubled the foolish heart of man— Social Equality.”


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