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Would You Like a Cup of Tea?

A one-act comedy by Alberta playwright, Warren Graves, premiered at the Walterdale Theatre in 1984, published in Four New Comedies (Playwrights, 1987). The characters are British transplants to the “New World”, and Graves uses their change of locale to invert social assumptions about rank and status. James is an unemployed English gentleman, who polishes the shoes of his insolent Cockney batman, Herbert, since, after all, it is Herbert who is working. Maudie is the landlady with the heart of gold and an empty bed, who lures the reluctant Herbert upstairs, and Nola is a very American widow who stalks James. Her cultural gaucheness is a blatant indicator of the thin veneer of civilization in the New World, but occasionally her ignorance can be illuminating, as in her assessment of the symphony scene in Canada: “They’ve got these orchestras all across the country, all playing the same stuff over and over again (38).

The play enacts an upper-middle-aged mating game: both James and Herbert learn via their experiences with the women that the future is bright, and that to cling to old cultural and social habits is stultifying. This might be construed as a reflection of a Canadian “coming of age.”

At its best the language of the play resembles Joe Orton’s stylish euphemism and sexual innuendo, especially in the mouth of Herbert.

Commentary by Anne Nothof, Athabasca University

Last updated 2019-10-09