(original title: Der Besuch der alten Dame
, "The Visit Of The Old Lady") is a tragicomedy play by the Swiss dramatist Friedrich Dürrenmatt
. Even though it has a simple (minimalist) structure, it's a complex psychological work with several twists, encompassing 3 acts.
The play takes place in the 1950's. The extremely impoverished town of Guellen prepares to welcome home Claire Zachanassian, quite possibly the richest woman in the world, who was born in the sleepy Guellen but moved abroad years before. They intend to woo her with fond memories (since they place wasn't such a sty back then) and have her ex-boyfriend, Alfred Ill, try to woo her into giving them $100,000. She offers one billion
, half to the town itself and half to be given out between the people... if the villagers can set aside their morals for her.
Due to the many twists in this play, some spoilers may end up unmarked.
As many relating to the major
twists (from the end of act 1 and the start of act 3) will be hidden as possible.
There's also The Musical
version, which was first performed in Vienna in 2014.
The play, together with The Pirate Jenny
, additionally inspired Dogville
This play provides examples of:
- The Bad Guy Wins. It was inevitable by the end.
- Batman Gambit: Claire knew the town needed her money because she set it up that way herself.
- The Chessmaster: Claire. When asked to invest in the town's mill and mine, both of which could be extremely profitable if someone just used a little cash to open then she reveals she bought them already. She's the one who closed them in the first place.
- Cloud Cuckoolander: The eunuchs Koby and Loby. A tragic variant, because it is implied they were made that way by torture. We know Claire had them blinded and castrated, at the very least...
- Comically Missing the Point: The press thought Ill was screaming "Oh God!" in joy. Then again, Claire pointed out before that she can make the press do what she wants.
- Deal with the Devil: Claire's deal is close enough. Sure, you can have your money... if someone kills Ill.
- Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: Most of the townsfolk go unnamed and are only known by their professions. Matilda, even though she is named, is called Mrs. Ill by the script.
- Humans Are Bastards: Every plot point relies on it.
- Living Prop: Literally, the trees in the forest are actually actors with their arms held out (going by the stage directions).
- Money, Dear Boy: Another major plot point. Guellen needs money...but what are they willing to do for it?
- It's also implied Ill married Matilda because her family owned the general store. They don't seem to care too much for each other, outside of the portrait plot point.
- The Needs of the Many: Used as justification later about taking Claire's deal. to the point where the Mayor tells Ill to just kill himself so no citizen has to murder him.
- Only Sane Man: It dwindles down to the Doctor and the Schoolmaster, and then just the Schoolmaster, and then it's Ill.
- Pragmatic Adaptation: A recent Dutch production team realized that the Netherlands doesn't have any mountain towns (due to there being no mountains in the whole country). The location was changed to a northern fishermen's island, with the train replaced by a boat and everyone doing northern accents. It worked beautifully.
- Red Right Hand: Claire has a prosthetic hand and foot to represent her inhumanity
- Rhymes on a Dime: All the names of the people who work for Claire. The butler is Boby, her bodyguards are former Manhattan gangsters Roby and Toby, and her eunuchs are Koby and Loby. Likewise, her three husbands she goes through in the play are named Moby, Hoby, and Zoby.
- This is all on purpose. Claire admits she renames her husbands to match the butler, since the butler will outlast them. It's implied she did the same with the others, since we also get Koby and Loby's real names in the story.
- Rule of Symbolism: Claire's pet panther, the yellow shoes, Claire's prosthetic parts, the hotel's name, the teacher being the last sane man...
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Claire insists she can buy justice.
- Serial Spouse: Claire. She arrives to Geullen with her seventh husband, divorces him and marries a film star, then divorces him too, and prepares to marry a Nobel Prize-winner.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Far on the cynical end.
- Those Two Guys: The eunuchs. In German they are even called Die Beiden, which means those two guys.
- Took a Level in Jerkass: Played with. Ill hasn't actually changed since the start of the play, but people start vilifying him more and more so they can eventually justify his death for their money.
- To be fair, he did a very Jerkass thing in the past.
- Unlucky Childhood Friend: Everyone sees Ill as this to the fabulously rich Claire, though they point out that if she'd married him she'd be as poor as the rest. Except she wouldn't, since it was Ill refusing to take responsibility for impregnating her that set her on the road to her vast wealth...which she used to ruin Guellen.
- Woman Scorned: Dürrenmatt took cues from Medea for Claire.