Cover photo by Greg Erf

Helen’s Play

Michael McGuire

This play is included in the collection:


Chicago, 1940. In the first act, Thomas, a successful playwright, his brother, Hal, with his wife, Helen, and son, Tom, wait out a storm in the playwright’s luxurious apartment. The playwright proposes to write a play just for his brother’s wife. The next afternoon, still snowbound, Thomas, Hal, and Helen visit the wealthy Pflaum-Smythes upstairs, while their high-spirited daughter, Effi, attempts to make the acquaintance of Tom, the boy, downstairs. The adults descend to witness a reading of Thomas’s new play, a story very much like that of Hal and Helen running off to Tahiti years ago, only Tom and Effi rise to play the parts. In the second act, a week later, beginning in Hal and Helen’s similar, but much less expensive apartment, Helen returns to announce that she has the lead in Thomas’s new play. The family celebrates. Late that night, Helen, who has been drinking, reveals to Tom that the price for being cast was high, followed by a couple of other revelations leading to her midnight departures for Thomas’s. At Thomas’s, Effi makes an unscheduled appearance in one of her mother’s evening gowns to demand the right to sit in on the rehearsals of Thomas’s new play. Helen arrives with Hal in close pursuit. Thomas makes a grim announcement, and all leave. Thomas sits down to work on his new script, which is subsequently enacted before us as a play within a play until Thomas’s final spoken stage direction brings the lights down.

Production Info

Cast: 7 total (3 female, 4 male)
Full Length Drama (about 100 minutes)
Single Set
Contemporary Costumes

Press Quotes

“Here are some of the things I admire about Michael McGuire as a playwright:
He takes chances.
He understands that plays should be ‘about’ something.
He understands that playwriting must be a socially responsible act.
He understands that to be truly entertaining a play must involve us deeply.
He understands that each play must have its own identity — its own voice.
I wish all playwrights understood this.”
—Edward Albee

“McGuire’s writing is hauntingly thoughtful, inexorably true.” —Publisher’s Weekly

“As with all of Mr McGuire’s work, these plays are mysterious, lyrical, and full of strange, and often startling surprises.” —Christopher Martin, Founding Director, C S C Repertory

“This is not hit or miss experimentation, but the mature work of an artist with a love for words and a highly developed sensitivity for the theatrical.” —John Schneider, Artistic Director, Theatre X

“As I’ve suggested, what makes his plays special is their literariness. I don’t mean anything like mere rhetoric, but in the theatricality a verbal delicacy of feeling, with nuances of perception that you’d expect to find in more private forms. He was always, in the theater, resistant to those who were dismissing language because they never thought much of it, or even when they did because, in his view of theater, the beginning is the word. That may or may not be true, but if we’re going to have language on stage would that more playwrights had as fine a sense of it as Michael McGuire.” —Herbert Blau, Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

“… a tightly controlled imagination … Mr McGuire’s aim is to keep testing the emotional limits of the audience until the last light goes out.” —D J R Bruckner, New York Times

About the Author


  • Michael McGuire

    "McGuire's writing is hauntingly thoughtful, inexorably true." —Publisher's Weekly Michael McGuire has had plays produced by the New York Shakespeare Festival (with Kevin McCarthy and Bob Balaban) and the Mark Taper Forum (with Ken Mars and Nan Martin) among others, including the American Theatre of Actors in New York, the Source in Washington, DC, The Changing Scene in Denver, the Actor's Workshop of San Francisco and at theatres in Frankfurt and Stuttgart, Germany. THE SCOTT FITZGERALD PLAY was published by the University of Missouri Press. BACKPACKER was grand prize winner and produced at the 9th Annual Great Platte River Playwrights' Competition in 1997. There have been many staged readings, including ones at N Y U, the Living Theatre, Lamb's with Tammy Grimes and Bob Stattel, the Public, the Hudson Guild, the Organic in Chicago, the Odyssey in Los Angeles, and two at Lincoln Center with Tammy Grimes, Richard Merrill, and Michael Zaslow. Mr. McGuire's fiction has appeared in The Paris Review, New Directions in Prose & Poetry, and the Hudson Review. A collection of his stories, The Ice Forest (Marlboro Press), was named one of the "Best Books of the Year" by Publisher's Weekly. He has been writer-in-residence at several universities and directed a creative writing program; he has had residencies at Yaddo and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, been aided in his work by the National Endowment for the Humanities, named an Individual Artist Fellow by the Oregon Arts Commission, and awarded the Oregon Arts Foundation Theatre Award. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild.

About the Book

Book Information

Publisher BPPI
Publication Date 6/1/1999
Pages 198
ISBN 9780881451603

Special Notes

Special Notes

Licensees are required to include the original stage producers credits in the following form on the title page in all programs distributed in connection with performances of the Play and in all advertising in which the full cast appears in size of type not less than ten percent (10%) of the size of the title of the Play:
The following must appear within all programs distributed in connection with performances of the Play:
Helen’s Play is produced
by special arrangement with Broadway Play Publishing Inc, NYC