The play takes place in familiar surroundings; a prominent law firm, a church funeral, and the basement of a church. Through the use of the Little Man in the Tuxedo, the quirky host of the play, we are welcomed to go behind the mahogany walls of wealth and prominence to witness tragic figures, farcical situations and, at times, the grotesque in order to tear away the masks we all wear and expose the senselessness of the human condition. The play starts with the portraits of the two founders of the firm, Bernie and Beau, hanging side-by-side with Bernie asking aloud why Beau’s portrait is worthy enough to hang next to his. Quickly news comes of Beau’s inconvenient death and conflict erupts between Bernie, who has full control over the firm and the portrait of Beau which symbolizes the soul of the firm. Throughout the play Bernie schemes to have Beau’s portrait removed from the firm.
The play ends with a “surprise” birthday party for Bernie at which one of the characters tragically tries to keep Beau’s portrait in the firm but after great embarrassment Beau’s portrait is carted away by the cleaning crew to resell for the value of the frame. The Little Man in the Tuxedo comes back on stage to confront us for a final time with questions about our existence and to announce a big surprise for Bernie.
Bernie, the main character is arrogant, petty, insecure and rude. While he has total control over the firm; he wants adoration from the people in the firm for all he believes he has done for them. To secure his wants, he schemes to rid the firm of Beau’s portrait so all attention can be totally on him and all of what he has done for the firm. And while Beau’s portrait is carted off to the garbage, Bernie, with the help of the Little Man in the Tuxedo, is the center of attention as the audience celebrates his birthday surprise, an event which captures the divorce between action and language that we all experience in our daily lives.
Portraits, is a play that revives the Theatre of the Absurd, by examining the divorce between action and language that we all experience as we muddle through life. It concludes by confronting us with the question which of us is the winner and which of us is the loser as we pass through an existence none of us understand.
Portraits guide sections