McCarter play synopses are provided to help inform curious or potential audience members about the story content of our plays in production. They are fairly detailed in their description of a play’s events. Some may want to read the overview of the story below before the performance, while others may skip the synopsis to avoid the revelation of plot points before experiencing the play in performance.
The choice is up to you!
Kyra Hollis returns home at the end of a cold winter day to her first-floor flat in north-west London and remains bundled up to keep warm. She starts removing ingredients for a spaghetti dinner from a plastic shopping bag. When she goes into the next room to start a bath, Edward Sergeant, a fashionable eighteen-year-old,surprises her in her open doorway. They greet each other awkwardly, while making it clear that they are well-acquainted, and he gives her some beer and rap records as a present. Edward informs her that he’s in his gap year before heading off to university and that he happened to be in the neighborhood and figured he would stop by. Sensing Edward’s nervousness, Kyra turns on a small electric heater as an act of hospitality (though the heater doesn’t work very well) and offers him some tea, which he politely declines. After some more small talk, Edward reveals the real reason he’s come to visit: his father. He tells Kyra that his mother Alice died about a year ago from cancer, and that as a result his father, Tom Sergeant, has gone through a change. Embarrassed, Edward confesses that he’s visiting because he would like Kyra to see Tom since he thinks she can help him. He asks for some tea after all to help calm his nerves and tells her that his family moved to Wimbledon, a wealthy suburban outer district of the city, before Alice’s death. Edward then tells Kyra that he and Tom got into a terrible argument two days ago. As a result, Edward has left home to stay with a friend. After enumerating some of the new behaviors he has seen Tom take on in the wake of his mother’s passing, Edward opens up further and expresses frustration at how his father is processing his grief. He adds that once he leaves for university next year, Tom will be all alone. On the topic of university, Edward asks Kyra about her job as a teacher in East Ham, a low-income neighborhood in east London. He tells her that he envies the lives of her underprivileged students, who “do things for their own sake” and don’t have to worry about CVs and their future careers. He also expresses jealousy of Kyra’s lifestyle, living in a quiet one-bedroom flat, and indicates to her, after some hesitation, that Tom does not approve of her choices. Finally, he asks her why she suddenly left his family after spending a great deal of time with them over so many years. She tells him that he can probably guess the reason, and in response he gets angry at her for abandoning them, contrasting her decision to walk out with his mother’s death, which wasn’t a choice. A bit fed up with Edward, Kyra insists that his anger should be directed at Tom, not her, and indicates that it’s time for him to go. Before leaving, he asks her what she misses most from her time with the Sergeants, and she tells him, “a good breakfast.” Edward correctly guesses that Kyra also misses Tom, though she doesn’t admit it. As he leaves, he blurts out that he wishes she “would bloody well help” before racing away from her flat. Kyra closes the door behind him, thinks a moment, and goes once again to run a bath.
Later that evening, the doorbell suddenly starts ringing incessantly and Kyra emerges from the bath to answer it, throwing a key down through the window to her visitor after a moment of panic. As she rushes to get dressed, Tom appears in the doorway and takes in the sight of Kyra’s flat. Reacting to his sudden and assertive arrival, she greets him with, “I wanted to say I’m not guilty” as if he had arrived to arrest her. In response, Tom gives her some whiskey as a gift. As he wanders around the flat, she asks if he had a heads-up that she would be home. He tells her that he just thought it was time that they see each other again. After Kyra mentions that she heard about Alice, Tom concedes that despite anticipating her death, he is having a hard time grieving her loss. Kyra offers Tom a glass of whiskey, and he accepts. Tom asks Kyra about her job, and she tells him about some of the harassment that the other teachers at her school encounter and how she avoids it, while pouring herself a glass of wine. When Tom further prods her about why she is able to avoid harassment, she sternly tells him to take off his coat, but he refuses due to the frigid temperature in her flat. He counters by offering to have a contractor he frequently employs visit to install central heating, but Kyra declines because she would rather not be indebted to him. Upon seeing Kyra begin to prepare her spaghetti, Tom asks her if she would like to go out for a “proper dinner” instead. She turns him down, scoffing at his disdain toward her home-cooked meal, and changes the subject to his restaurant and hotel conglomerate, which he tells her is now thriving after going public and taking on a board. Tom then compares his and Kyra’s current life situations. He remarks that she could have accepted shares in his company and moved up in the world. Tom continues on commenting on the bankers with whom he does business and how they’re portrayed in the news, leading Kyra to inform him that she’s stopped reading the newspaper and doesn’t have a television. Because she found that the news only made her angry, she’s turned to reading classic novels and computer manuals instead.
Kyra changes the subject abruptly and asks Tom about Edward. Unimpressed with his son, Tom pours himself another drink and complains about the selfishness and limited worldview of adolescents and the younger generation in general. He denies any particular problem in his relationship with Edward (though they both know this is a lie). Kyra returns to her cooking, and although Tom continuously criticizes her methods, he asks if she intends for him to stay for dinner. She silently sets out two plates in response. Seeing Kyra cook has reminded Tom of how they met: the night Kyra began working as a waitress in one of Tom and Alice’s restaurants, Alice had to leave abruptly to care for her hospitalized daughter and put Kyra in charge after only 45 minutes on the job. Kyra reminisces on how she waited all night until Alice returned at 4 A.M. with Tom in tow, and Tom adds that she brought them brandy and coffee in their own restaurant. Tom and Alice brought Kyra back to their house that morning, and she immediately felt at home with the Sergeant family. Tom laments that Kyra left them three years ago, and Kyra questions why, if this is true, he never got in touch after she left. He confesses that if he had rekindled the relationship, he would never be able to leave her. They reflect on the former state of their relationship: how they never needed to discuss their feelings for one another because Kyra understood Tom’s feelings implicitly, and how Kyra never felt that she was betraying Alice because of how peaceful she felt with their family and with the two of them together.
Almost finished making dinner, Kyra asks Tom to grate the cheese for the spaghetti, which he proceeds to call a “greasy lump of crud.” As if seeing this parmesan is the final straw, he erupts with frustration and shock at her low-income lifestyle. He offers to supply her with better quality cheese, saying that his driver Frank could go out and buy them a fresher block of parmesan. Kyra, in this moment, tells Tom that she is happy with the way she lives and expresses her horror at how Tom has kept Frank waiting through their conversation—an example of his general mistreatment of those who work for him. They continue to argue about Frank when Tom explodes and declares that their argument exemplifies the problems in their relationship: Kyra’s “ridiculous self-righteousness,” which she views as respect and empathy. To Tom, this attitude was always directly in conflict with the way he did business, which he identifies as the reason why Kyra had to leave. Kyra is incredulous at Tom’s analysis of her. She reminds him that, in fact, she left because Alice discovered their six-year affair; she had always warned him that she would leave if Alice found out. When Tom complains that Kyra left in such a hurry, within an hour of Alice’s discovery, Kyra maintains that she had no choice.
Eventually, Tom concedes and starts grating the cheese. Kyra mentions that she heard that he moved, and Tom starts describing Alice’s illness and how he wanted her to be in a more peaceful space as she died, so he had a home built in Wimbledon with a sloping glass roof—a skylight—over the bedroom facing the Common. As Tom tells this story, they both pause in their meal preparation. Tom confesses that Alice’s illness was difficult for him because of her growing spirituality, which he never understood. Kyra interprets this as an inevitability of dying and sees Tom’s lack of understanding as connected to the persistence of his guilt over their affair. While Tom can’t deny this, he describes how instead of confronting him about his behavior, Alice began to withdraw from the intimacy of their relationship. He saw her illness as a form of divine punishment. When Kyra asks how he’s feeling now, he tells her that he copes by turning to his business though he still struggles with grief; Kyra mentions she has heard this and uses the topic as an opportunity to inform him that Edward visited her earlier that evening. This revelation angers Tom, who sees Edward’s visit as an effort to spread gossip and make other people’s business his own. In a sudden release of her anger and frustration, Kyra throws several utensils across the room and scolds Tom for ignoring and pretending not to understand Edward’s misery and instead being critical of Edward as a way to cover up his own feelings of guilt. She tells him that she has seen through the lies he has been telling her all evening about his emotional health, his relationship with his family, and his motivation to visit her. Tom finally gives in, confessing that he could not be with Alice at the end of her life and avoided her by traveling and doing business abroad. He felt furious that Kyra had left him to handle his broken relationships with his family on his own, all made worse by Alice’s illness, and that he kept himself going by believing that if he behaved well, Kyra would come back. He confronts Kyra directly, asking “Will you tell me, will you tell me, please, Kyra, what exactly are you doing here?” She tells him to go downstairs to send Frank away while she pours the spaghetti sauce into a bowl, puts a second wine glass on the table, and quickly slices a loaf of bread. Tom returns and starts crying as they embrace in a gesture of reunion.
Later that night, around 2:30 A.M., Kyra emerges from her bedroom in pajamas and starts to eat the untouched bread and spaghetti sauce she had prepared for dinner. She gathers her schoolbooks and sits beside the electric heater to finally start her grading. Soon after, Tom joins her from the bedroom. They joke about how the emotional atmosphere of the room has changed since his arrival earlier that night, and he comments that he’s gotten so used to her flat that he might give up his life of luxury to move in with her. More sincerely, he proposes that they spend Christmas together at one of his vacation homes on the beach. As Kyra goes to make some tea, Tom notices her school books and asks about her teaching. Kyra explains her teaching philosophy: she strives to both care for and challenge her students despite their “tough backgrounds,” but she quickly loses Tom’s interest. She refers to her former life with the Sergeants as “a dream” but now sees her life as more real since it is closer to that of the average London resident. Toms sees it as bleak and lonely, but she reassures him that she has friends and enjoys her life. He still doesn’t believe her, though, and insists that she might be happier if she had more money and a better home. Offering him tea, she asks why her lifestyle and selfless career bother him. He tells her that it seems like she is punishing herself, in the same way that he felt that Alice’s death and the way she treated him as she died was a punishment for his infidelity.
Tom asks Kyra what will happen between them going forward, declaring that the outcome of that decision determines the extent to which they admit guilt. Kyra reminds him that she lives in a different world than the one he knows, with different values populated by people with different mindsets, and that he has to respect that decision if they are to maintain a relationship going forward. He still does not understand or support her lifestyle, and she blames him for being narrow-minded and scolds him for looking down on the kind of life that most people live. Tom agrees but still cracks jokes because he cannot understand why anyone would want to live in such dreary conditions when given the option not to. While pouring the tea, Kyra criticizes his condescension towards the working class and tells him that she is sick of his denial of others’ intellectual potential and his disrespect toward them. Pouring himself another drink, Tom uses Kyra’s criticism as an opportunity to shame her for seeing the good in everyone. He accuses her of deliberately living a minimalistic life and depriving herself of privileges that she could afford, such as a better heater, in an effort to run away from him. Kyra rebukes him for waiting to criticize her lifestyle until after they slept together, to which he responds that he thought his criticism was so obvious it didn’t need to be stated. What Tom sees as Kyra throwing her talents away by teaching underprivileged students, Kyra sees as applying her skills where they are most useful, which Tom does not appreciate. Kyra explodes at Tom, expressing her overall frustration at what she perceives as the cultural habit of criticizing and judging those in challenging, altruistic social service professions by those who have no understanding of their demanding nature, no appreciation for the good they do, and no intention of trying the jobs themselves.
After a moment of silence, Kyra returns to her grading, and Tom says that he understands that her work fulfills her but still questions her happiness. When she scoffs at this, Tom reminds her of how similar her current situation is to her lonely isolated childhood, which she tried so hard to escape. He adds that the only time she truly left that loneliness and coldness was when she lived with Alice, and Edward, and him. Kyra then accuses him of examining her flat for any signs that she has a boyfriend and feeling a sense of ownership over her. Getting herself more tea, she criticizes his treatment of women, including her and Alice, and his selfishness in making everything about him and blaming the women in his life for his problems. But Tom does not listen; he continues to blame her because she left without his permission or consultation. Recalling his earlier comments on business, Kyra contrasts the humility of Tom and other wealthy businessmen with the people she encounters in East Ham, noting that Tom didn’t possess this condescension when they first met. She offers him the opportunity to spend a day with her to help him understand the injustice she sees in the world. Instead of agreeing, Tom questions why she’s attracted to injustice and inequality, remarking that she’s so well-liked because she always says yes to people—except for him when he asked her to get married. He calls her abrupt departure from his life cowardly and refuses to believe her explanation for why she left: that she always said she would have to go if Alice found out about their affair.
Spoiler alert! If you would like to read what happens next in the story and how the play ends, click here.
Tom accuses Kyra of being afraid to commit, but she coldly insists that he simply does not understand her and tells him to leave. Tom grabs Kyra’s schoolbooks from her and throws them across the room, frustrated that she won’t admit that she misses him as much as he misses her. In reply, Kyra tells him to get dressed, and she drinks a glass of water and calls a taxi for him. Both shattered, they try to move on civilly as he gathers his things and prepares to leave. Right before Tom’s departure, Kyra brings up the final days of their affair. She recounts how she sent him passionate love notes from her solo beach vacation, and Alice discovered the letters after Tom did not hide them properly. Tom claims this was an accident, but Kyra insists that it was deliberate because leaving the letters out was the single thing she had ever asked him not to do. Kyra is not proud of her sudden departure from the Sergeants but acknowledges the impossibility of a happy life with Tom (and without Alice), criticizing him for spoiling what they did have because he wanted more. Despite the fact that she still loves him more than anyone on earth, she cannot trust him because of his immaturity and restlessness. The doorbell rings: Tom’s taxi has arrived. In parting, Tom tells her that he came in pursuit of forgiveness and the chance to go back to the “infinite potential” of their former relationship. Kyra doesn’t answer, the bell rings again, and Tom leaves, kissing her on the cheek and inviting her to eat at one of his restaurants, which he says on a good night can be “almost as nice as eating at home.” Kyra listens to his departure down the stairs, turns out the lights, unplugs the heater, and retreats to her bedroom.
A few hours later, sunlight begins to stream through the window, the flat still in disarray from the events of the previous night. Suddenly the doorbell starts ringing once again. Kyra emerges from the bedroom, throwing her clothes on and leaving to open the door. Edward and Kyra joyously greet each other as they ascend the staircase. Edward enters the flat with a very large Styrofoam box, remarking that his idea is a crazy one while Kyra notices that she’s overslept. He announces the contents of the box: breakfast, the thing Kyra said she missed most from her life with the Sergeants. He unpacks a full meal which he put together with a friend who works in the kitchen at the Ritz: silverware and dishes, toast with butter, fresh fruit, croissants, coffee, scrambled eggs, bacon, and more. Kyra thanks Edward and begins to cry as he unpacks the food. She notes that she is in a rush because she has to be at work early to teach one of her students extra lessons for free; despite this student’s troubled home life, she sees a spark in him and enjoys helping him find his full potential. This, to her, is the most gratifying part of being a teacher. While sharing this with Edward, she begins to pick up the scattered books and clean the flat, getting lost in her own thoughts about her passion for teaching. Edward has finished setting the table, and he removes a chair from the table for her to sit. They both sit down and happily begin their meal.