Book Club Notes: The Visit

Heads up, this bad boy is a play and a German one at that. Now, I don’t know German so this version is a translation by Patrick Bowles. The Visit is a tragi-comedy written by the Swiss author Friedrich Durrenmatt in 1956. Just to remind everyone, and this isn’t something you probably read in an American high school, like the F451 post:

There will be spoilers.

The worst.

Act 1

We start off in an old village called G├╝llen, where the local economy has tanked and folks have fallen on hard times as a result. There are your standard townsfolk, there is a Mayor, a Schoolmaster, Priest, a Cop, etc. It’s like the Simpsons where the same ppl show up no matter where they go. The main character is a shopkeeper named Alfred Ill. He has a wife and what I assume are older kids who can drive and smoke etc. but it’s the 50’s and who knows, they might be 10. Anyway, half the town has gathered up at the train station for an old woman who grew up in the village and is now a millionaire. The townsfolk have agreed to let Ill talk her into donating some much needed cash into the village given he used to date her back when they were teens.

The train shows up and this hilariously bonkers rich old woman rolls out. Claire Zachanassian (yeah, I’m not typing that out again) has been all over the world and amassed a huge fortune and a laundry list of husbands. She has a prosthetic arm and leg , smokes cigars, and has a small posse of dudes to cart her around town. Along with all these people and her luggage she has a coffin she has brought along as well. When the townsfolk ask about money Claire says she intends to give them a million bucks, half to the town and half divided out to the residents. The one catch is that someone has to kill Alfred Ill.

Here’s your one chance Fancy, don’t let me down.

Act 2

Claire has explained to the group of citizens that when they were younger Ill got her pregnant and denied that he was the father, paying two other boys to claim they were with her instead. After this she left, the baby was taken away by the state and she was forced into prostitution. Slowly she started collecting husbands and wealth through the years.

Ill is freaking out over this whole situation. All his buddies in town claim he has nothing to worry about. They say this over and over, nearly every time they talk to him. However, each time he visits someone or sees someone from town they have a new pair of shoes on, or are buying nice things on credit.

As he worries he makes plans to just leave town. Just before he can get on a train the townsfolk crowd him at the station saying he has nothing to worry about. Rather than get on the train he runs back home.

Act 3

Ill is going about his day to day work selling stuff at his shop, awaiting the day the town plans to formally accept Claire’s monetary donations. Again, folks in town try to assure him he is fine that when it comes down to the vote that they won’t be the one to kill him.

He spends the day with his family who have all been buying cars, clothes, and other fancy things while he worked in the shop. There is one more meeting with Claire in the woods before the town meeting where the press will be there to cover everything.

The Mayor gives a speech about generosity and rebuilding the town or something and they take a break for the press folks to get set up. During this the townsfolk quietly kill Ill. Claire arrives to inspect him to make sure he is dead and has him put in the coffin she brought. She then presents the villagers with the check. THE END.

Very Alice Roosevelt.

I honestly loved this whole play. Comedy that involves true crime or fictional crime is something I enjoy and when it has an elderly Victorian woman in it who smokes cigars and gets sassy with everyone, well that’s a win for me. The entire town wants Ill to take one for the team, if he dies they all prosper later as opposed to everyone being miserable. It’s a horrible thing to have happen to someone but when put in a humorous setting with over the top characters it just works.

Since I haven’t written or read many plays outside o’l Shakespeare and Aristophanes I can’t comment on the pacing or structure of anything really. It’s all dialog which makes this a lightning fast read. I do like the little footnotes where it says all of Claire’s husbands can just be played by the same dude with different clothes or if the play runs too long you can omit the Painter character entirely with a little bit of javascript in the back.

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