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Theatre / Both Your Houses

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Alan: Is honesty possible here at all?
Gray: I'd say that honesty was so rare as to be almost unknown in any government, and impossible under our system.

Both Your Houses is a 1933 play by Maxwell Anderson.

In Washington, various venal Congressmen are busy slapping additional items onto an appropriations bill for the construction of a dam. The bill is for the last $40 million to finish off a dam that is already grossly over budget, but various Congressmen have been larding it up with pork. Some, like Rep. Simeon Gray, are doing it for their constituents—Gray added a prison to be built in his district that will help the town and especially the local bank. Others are in it for straight-up graft—Rep. Solomon Fitzmaurice wants to anchor the Atlantic Fleet off of Long Island, to benefit a resort that he owns.

Into this comes newly minted congressman Alan McClean. Alan is from the district where the dam is supposed to be built, and everyone assumes that he will vote for it, but Alan is so squeaky clean that he launched an investigation into his own election. Sure enough, Alan dedicates himself to killing the appropriations bill. In this he is assisted by hypercompetent secretary Greta Nilsson, better known as "Bus". Alan soon finds himself at loggerheads with committee chairman Rep. Gray, while at the same time falling in love with Gray's secretary and daughter, Mary.


Both Your Houses won the Pulitzer Prize. Interestingly, it won the prize the year after a very different play about politics, the farce comedy Of Thee I Sing, won.


  • Ambiguous Ending: Alan is defeated when his even more grossly pork-laden bill winds up attracting a veto-proof majority. But he gives his corrupt colleagues a "The Reason You Suck" Speech and vows to work until he brings them all down. After Alan stalks out, Sol anticipates that Alan's going to be famous, but that public apathy will save them in the short term. Sol warns his younger colleagues, though, saying that one day the public is "going to catch up with you."
  • As You Know: Some of this when Sol, who wants his payoff, talks to Simeon about how the bill was a $40 million bill that was loaded down with add-ons until it reached $275 million.
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  • Bags of Letters: In the first scene Eddie's office is being deluged by constituent telegrams. Towards the end Eddie's office is getting swamped with telegrams opposing the bill.
  • Batman Gambit: After Alan's efforts to defeat the bill in committee fail, he changes tactics. Instead of opposing the bill, he professes to support it, and winds up adding all the pork proposed to the bill, blowing it up to over $400 million dollars. The idea is to elicit a veto from the President, which works when the President does promise to veto the bill as being way too expensive. However, to Alan's horror, the increased pork winds up attracting even more support, and the bill passes the House with a veto-proof 2/3 majority.
  • Complete-the-Quote Title: It's an allusion to Mercutio's curse from Romeo and Juliet: "A plague o' both your houses!"
  • Corrupt Politician: All of them except for Alan. Sol is the worst, stating without shame that he wants the fleet anchored where it will make him money. Sol later tells Alan that it was corrupt politicians and corrupt corporate executives who built the railroads and steel mills that drive the American economy.
    Sol: By God, if there's anything I hate more than store liquor, it's an honest politician.
  • The Ghost: Miss Corey, the Sexy Secretary who leads Eddie to fire Bus, thus freeing up Bus to work for Alan. Never seen. Neither is the President, for that matter, although the President wouldn't be expected to sit in for discussions on how to pass a bill.
  • Government Procedural: All the ugly deal-making that goes into getting a bloated appropriations bill passed.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Once again, Alan had his own election investigated when he suspected impropriety. So naturally he can't abide an appropriations bill that is filled up with pork and graft, even when it directly benefits his district.
  • The Mole: Miss Merton, Alan's secretary, reports on him to the leaders of the caucus. Alan cans her when he finds out.
  • No Party Given: Never mentioned. They do mention the Non-Partisans, a small group of independent congressmen who are a crucial bloc of swing votes.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Everyone calls Bus "Bus". And the play never explains why.
  • Redemption Rejection: Alan has a heart-to-heart with Sol in which Alan appeals to Sol's better nature and says that he knows Sol doesn't really want to vote for the bill. Sol in turn tells Alan that it's way too late for him, that in his early days he had a Good Angel, Bad Angel thing going but the longer he stayed, the weaker the Good Angel got until it finally gave up.
  • Shout-Out: The title is from a line of Mercutio's in Act III, Scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet — in which Mercutio is calling down a curse on both the houses in question, having given up hope of both.
  • Significant Name: The do-gooder congressman who resolves to fight the noble fight against corruption in government is named "McClean".
  • White-and-Grey Morality: Alan of course wears the white hat, with his Incorruptible Pure Pureness and his fearless opposition to the bill. But the appropriately named Rep. Gray reminds Alan that the bill he derides as pork-laden and corrupt will in fact create a lot of jobs and will save the bank in Gray's district.