Full Synopsis

Full Synopsis

Act One

Riverwind is a "tourist rest" in Indiana. We see a small rustic summer cabin perched several feet above the ground, supported by poles. A warm country charm is immediately apparent despite the years of neglect. On one side of the stage is the interior of one of the cabins; the audience represents the Wabash River. It is a late summer afternoon.

We discover Jenny Farrell, an attractive youngster under eighteen, sitting on the steps with a basket of beans by her side. She is thumbing through a copy of Photoplay Magazine, posing glamorously. On the opposite side are Virginia and Burt, two intellectuals in their early thirties. Virginia is reading, and Burt is thumbing through his dissertation. The two are arguing as Burt attempts to concentrate, but Virginia is bothering him by rambling on, asking questions. Something appears to be a bit odd about their relationship.

Mrs. Farrell, proprietress of Riverwind, enters carrying some lemonade. She asks her daughter, Jenny, to finish breaking the beans, and Jenny quickly rises to the task. John Stone, a very shy young man just under eighteen who works at Riverwind, enters carrying several catfish on a line. Mrs. Farrell tells him to ask Virginia and Burt (the guests) if they want some lemonade. He does, and they accept. John then goes over to Jenny and tells her that Jean Robbins said that Jenny was the most arrogant girl whom she'd ever seen in her life. Jenny gets upset when she finds out that John didn't disagree with Jean. In reality, he didn't say anything because he never says anything at all. She shoves a plate of beans at John and tells him to work while she reads her magazine. He breaks the beans and laments why it is that he can't tell Jenny that he's crazy about her ("I Can Not Tell Her So").

Burt and Virginia talk some more, and it's obvious that they are more apart emotionally than together. She's wrapped up in getting a good role in their community theatre production back home, while he's still working on his doctoral dissertation of Beowulf. Things were so much easier when they met seven years ago. On the other side, John finally tries to talk with Jenny. During their conversation, she tries to get him stirred up. All Jenny really wants is some excitement – something that she hasn't ever found around Riverwind ("I Want a Surprise").

An automobile horn is heard, and Mrs. Farrell runs out excitedly, announcing that guests have arrived! She tells John to go prepare one of the cabins. Louise Sumner, a pretty woman in her early forties, enters carrying a cosmetic case and fur piece, heading right for Cabin D. It appears as if she has been here before. In fact, 17 years ago, because of terrible rain, she and her husband were forced to spend the first night of their honeymoon at Riverwind as they drove to Canada. Louise wants to surprise her husband by bringing him back here and wants to see if he remembers it. This also might bring some life back to their troubled marriage ("Riverwind").

Her husband, Fred, enters and looks around, proclaiming the place to be "a goddamn dump." He is now a doctor and would like nothing more than to drive the extra couple of hours needed to get home from their vacation, but he reluctantly signs the register. Burt and Virginia notice Fred's reluctance and talk awhile with Louise, who tells them about her plan to come back to Riverwind. Watching Fred and Louise in their cabin getting ready for dinner, it's obvious that they are two people who really don't talk to each other anymore – just a couple who stay together only out of habit. In fact, Louise tells Burt and Virginia that the most important thing for a couple is to stick together, no matter what. After Virginia and Burt watch Louise and Fred, they both sit alone and wonder if this is indeed the best plan, after all. You see, the two of them have been living together out of wedlock for the past seven years ("American Family Plan").

After dinner, The two couples sit around outside drinking coffee while Mrs. Farrell cleans up. The two couples learn more about each other. Most important of all, Fred claims to be in the restaurant business, but he's actually been a maitre d' at a Howard Johnson's while finishing his doctoral philosophy dissertation – for the past fourteen years! While Burt and Virginia go off for an evening stroll, Fred and Louise watch John and Jenny cleaning up after dinner. All four of them wish that they were somebody other than who they are at the moment. The youngsters want to be older, and the oldsters want to be young ("The Wishing Song"). After all of this wishing, Louise is left alone. Burt and Virginia return and apologize to Louise for fighting in front of her earlier. She replies that it is okay... in fact, she thinks it's healthy for married couples to fight. That's when she learns that Burt and Virginia aren't married, they just live together. Burt has been promising to marry her as soon as he finishes his dissertation. In reality, Louise sees just how honest this couple is with one another. She goes off to watch some television while Burt and Virginia realize that they are actually happy being who they are ("American Family Plan – Reprise").

Walking along, Fred bumps into Jenny and learns that the girl wants desperately to see the world and get away from Riverwind. She's only been to Indianapolis... and she didn't even stay there overnight. She also tells Fred how glamorous his life as a doctor must be. Acting on an impulse, he creates an imaginary scene, where the two of them are dining at the famous Maxim's in Paris ("Pardon Me If I Dance"). After whirling her around, he asks to kiss her, and she obliges. Instead, he gives her a peck on the cheek and leaves, full of new-found feeling. John enters and touches Jenny on the arm. She tells him not to do that and runs off. The situation is getting a bit screwed up here! John leaves as Jenny re-enters and attempts to have a grown-up conversation with her mother – asking her when life is going to start happening for her. Mrs. Farrell just tells her not to try to force anything, because life is right here in front of her. Jenny wants a little talk about "the facts of life;" unfortunately, Mrs. Farrell can only talk about the mundane chores that she does at Riverwind ("Sew the Buttons On"). That's enough for her. When Jenny tries to ask about being kissed, Mrs. Farrell assumes that she means young John, but still doesn't offer any advice. She really isn't in touch with her feelings at all.

Fred returns to his cabin and tells Louise that perhaps they should spend a few more days at Riverwind. Louise is a bit confused, since this isn't the same man who, before, had to get back to the hospital so quickly. She tells him that they will talk about it in the morning. Right now, he goes off to take a shower. Mrs. Farrell brings in a quilt and compliments Louise on her beautiful nightgown. Louise tells her that things have never been better. In fact, she asks Mrs. Farrell to get her a bucket of ice to chill some champagne. It's obvious that she's trying to recreate the magic of her wedding night. Mrs. Farrell quickly sends Jenny in with a bucket of ice. As Jenny talks with Louise, we learn that she has never tasted champagne. Louise opens the bottle, gives her a taste and talks a bit about being a woman. Jenny leaves, Fred returns, and Louise is ready for a night a fun. She is dressed in her new nightgown, leaning against the post of the porch. Fred doesn't really notice his wife; instead, he sees Jenny folding laundry and is captivated by her. Louise is ready for something more ("Riverwind – Reprise").

Act Two

The act opens with Virginia and Burt fishing. On the porch, Fred is napping while Louise returns from showering and angrily begins throwing things into her suitcase. Obviously, something went wrong last night. Acting on an impulse, Virginia asks Burt to marry her. It is obvious that they both have been after something else. She's been trying to be an actress, and he claims that he simply needs to finish his dissertation. They seem so close to making their relationship work... yet so far, too. ("Almost But Not Quite").

Back in their cabin, Fred notices that their suitcases are all packed. Fred thought that they were staying for a few more days; obviously, things have changed. Louise now claims that she has an important appointment in Indianapolis. Also, she wants to know why he slept on the porch last night. All he says is that they have been married for 17 years. What upsets Louise so much is the fact that he never responds to her at all. It's one thing to fight, but it's another thing to be treated with indifference. She has had it! In fact, she's planning to go home and start divorce proceedings. They basically have a huge fight, acting more like children than ever before. After Fred storms off angrily, Louise ponders her situation ("A Woman Must Think of These Things").

Mrs. Farrell tells John to go knock on Jenny's door and get her to come to breakfast. He confesses to Mrs. Farrell that he has problems talking with Jenny. She tells him just to get up the courage and talk with Jenny... maybe even tell her what it is about her that he likes ("I Love Your Laughing Face"). After this advice from Mrs. Farrell, he goes off to attempt to talk.

In the picnic area, Virginia is rehearsing her lines for an upcoming production of Macbeth – playing one of the witches. Burt enters, tosses his dissertation into the air and asks Virginia to marry him. It seems only natural that after waiting for seven years, she would jump at this chance; however, she turns him down. If they have waited this long, they are not gong to let some "silly-ass, bourgeoisie, pagan ritual get in their way." She wants to be an actress, and he wants to complete his doctorate – that's what they both should do. In fact, she wants to go off to New York and audition for a play – and she's going to do it! The most important thing is that they love each other.

Louise calls Mrs. Farrell to her cabin to talk, and the two have a some champagne... before breakfast. Louise just needs to share her situation with someone. She tells Mrs. Farrell that things with Fred aren't going that well. After getting just a little tipsy, Mrs. Farrell (now wanting to be called Leona) surmises that a woman's real problem is that she just isn't allowed to age gracefully. Louise calls her a born philosopher and shares that thought with her ("A Woman Must Never Grow Old").

Fred is then found knocking on Jenny's door, coming to say goodbye. He confides in Jenny that he and Louise are going for a legal separation... possibly a divorce. While talking with Jenny, Fred realizes that what attracted him to Jenny was the fact that she reminded him of Louise when they were first married. Instead of trying to search for something that isn't there, he just needs to remember how beautiful she was then ("I'd Forgotten How Beautiful She Could Be"). He isn't in love with Jenny! He still loves his wife! No sooner does he finish talking with Jenny, than he runs to tell Louise that he still loves her – now and forever.

So, everything works out in the end rather nicely. John finally gets up enough courage to talk with Jenny. Fred and Louise get "love" back in their marriage. Virginia and Burt realize that what they have going on between them is fine, even if other people don't think so. Even Mrs. Farrell has let her hair down to talk frankly with her daughter and shared some advice with Louise. This time together at Riverwind has made everyone grow ("Sew the Buttons On – Reprise")!