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Wide Open Cage


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A: James K. Baxter Pf: 1959, Wellington, New Zealand Pb: 1959 G: Trag. in 3 acts S: Skully's two-room shack, rural New Zealand, 1950s C: 3m, 3fJack Skully, an old seaman in his fifties living off his pension, has just spent the night with Norah Vane, a Maori prostitute in her twenties. Now with his friend Father Tom O'Shea, he rejects the priest's faith, calling God the prison governor of the cage they live in. He is visited by his solicitous landlady Ma Bailey, then by Ted, a bored and sexually frustrated teenager, and finally by Eila, a pretty 17-year-old, from whom Skully steals a kiss. Father Tom warns Skully about his drunken friend Ben Hogan, recently released from prison. Ted brings news that Skully has had a big win on the horses, and Ted and Eila become mutually attracted. Norah arrives with Hogan, who is so drunk that, after a tussle with Skully, he ends up unconscious on the floor. Skully asks Norah to marry him, but she knows they will end up caged in a boring marriage. They go to bed together. Two evenings later, Skully, Hogan, and Norah are still celebrating the win. Hogan's drunken singing prompts Ma Bailey to give Skully his notice, and he has to calm her. Ted offers Norah £5 for sex, which she angrily rejects. Father Tom hears Norah's confession that she once murdered her baby, and they then leave together. Incited by an old Maori skull, Hogan murders Skully and steals his money. Father Tom administers the last rites.

A: James K. Baxter Pf: 1959, Wellington, New Zealand Pb: 1959 G: Trag. in 3 acts S: Skully's two-room shack, rural New Zealand, 1950s C: 3m, 3f

A poet of some standing, Baxter wrote some of the first major plays of the nascent post-war New Zealand theatre. The Wide Open Cage contains fine language and a sympathetic portrayal of a Maori, but its awkward construction, thinly drawn characters, gratuitous introduction of the supernatural, and melodramatic ending mean that outside its national context, it has little to offer.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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