Ivy, Mattie Fae, and Charlie sit in the living room. Ivy is Beverly and Violet’s daughter; Mattie Fae is Violet’s sister, and Charlie is Mattie Fae’s husband. Mattie Fae drinks a glass of scotch while Charlie drinks a beer and watches baseball on TV. Mattie Fae says that Beverly has taken off before but has always come back. Mattie Fae recalls one time in particular, when Beverly left without a word—she recommended Violet pack Beverly’s bags, leave them on the porch, and burn his books in a bonfire on the lawn. As Mattie Fae tells the story, she and Charlie bicker back and forth about the details. Charlie urges Mattie Fae to settle down—he doesn’t want to upset Ivy, who is surely concerned about her father’s whereabouts. Mattie Fae says she’s sure Beverly will come back soon, but Ivy herself says she thinks “this time is different.”
This scene demonstrates the closeness of this family, and the knowledge they all have of everyone else’s business. It also shows that Beverly has long wanted to escape his home and his family—he has toyed with the idea of disappearing before. Nevertheless, there is something about this time that strikes Ivy as being “different”—this line contributes to the atmosphere of heavy dread in the Weston household.
Charlie asks why this time is different, and Ivy replies that she believes her parents have stopped trying to repair their marriage. Mattie Fae adds that Beverly is a complicated man. Charlie compares Beverly’s seriousness to that of Little Charlies—his and Mattie Fae’s own son—but Mattie Fae protests that Beverly is “nothing” like Little Charles; someone has to be smart to be complicated, and she feels her son is not smart at all.
In light of the information that will be revealed later in the play, this exchange takes on a new significance. Mattie Fae is quick to differentiate her own son, Little Charles, from Beverly. The moment her child is brought up, she begins insulting him—her cruelty is a defense mechanism, and as the play unfolds, the audience will learn why.
Mattie Fae changes the subject, complaining that it’s so hot inside the house she’s sweating. Charlie laments the heat, too, and asks Ivy when her parents started taping up the shades. Ivy replies that they’ve been doing it for a couple of years now. Charlie asks Ivy if she knows the purpose—one can’t tell if it’s “night or day” in the house. Ivy answers that she believes creating that inability to differentiate between the two is the purpose. Ivy isn’t sure which of her parents began the practice, but she admits that she can’t really see Beverly as having been the one to take the initiative. Mattie Fae begins to peel some tape from the shades but Charlie reprimands her—it’s nighttime anyway, he says, and she shouldn’t come into someone’s home and start changing things around.
Again, the sweltering, claustrophobic physical environment within the house mirrors the constricting emotional environment. The taped shades, meant to block out night and day and help Violet and Beverly live in squalor, unseen by the outside world and alone with their addictions, further the terrifying, suffocating psychological atmosphere within the home.
Violet enters—she has just gotten off the phone with the sheriff, who says that they have checked all the hospitals but have found no sign of Beverly. Additionally, Beverly’s boat is missing. Though some boats have been stolen recently and the sheriff isn’t sure if its absence means anything, Violet says, she seems despondent, and heads up the stairs. Ivy follows her.
Things are not looking good—Beverly is nowhere to be found, and the idea that his boat is missing does not bode well for what could have befallen him.
Upstairs, Violet asks Ivy if she has called Barbara—her daughter, and Ivy’s sister—yet. Ivy says she did, and tells Violet that Barb and her husband Bill are on their way from Boulder, Colorado. Violet asks Ivy to provide her with more details about the phone call—what Barb said, how she sounded, et cetera—but Ivy is close-mouthed. Violet takes a pill, and curses Beverly for putting her through such an ordeal. She is angry that he has left her with an office full of paperwork and a “stranger in [her] house” in the form of Johnna, who started just one week ago.
This scene sets up the dynamic between Violet and Ivy. The quiet, introverted Ivy is at her mother’s mercy, and stands by in feigned ignorance as her mother feeds her crippling pill addiction.
Ivy tells Violet she has called Karen—another sister—as well, and that Karen is going to try to come to Oklahoma. Violet takes another pill, and says that neither Karen nor Ivy will be any help—the one she needs is Barb. Violet begins disparaging Ivy for her appearance, making negative comments about her recently-straightened hair, her makeup-free face, and her wardrobe, which makes her “look like a lesbian.” Violet tells Ivy that if she just spruced up a little bit, she could meet a man—after all, she’s forty-four, and the clock is ticking. Violet takes yet another pill and asks Ivy if Ivy has been counting how many she’s taking—Ivy says she hasn’t been.
As Violet continues taking pills, the emotional and verbal abuse she inflicts on Ivy ramps up. Her addiction and her desire to abuse and entrap everyone around her are shown to be intimately related—first through her earlier scene with Beverly, and now through this interaction with Ivy, in which she attempts to belittle and invalidate the only daughter who has stayed close to home.
Ivy asks Violet if her mouth is hurting, and Violet says she is in a lot of pain. Ivy suggests Violet stop smoking, as she’s not supposed to be. Violet counters that nobody is “supposed” to smoke. Ivy asks Violet if she is scared, and Violet admits that she is. She tells Ivy that she is a comfort—Violet is grateful that at least one of her three daughters stayed close to home.
Violet complains of being in pain yet continues smoking. This shows that she is either lying about how much pain she is in as an excuse for taking more and more medication, or is simply so high that she forgets about her pain after a time.
Barbara and Bill arrive on the porch, carrying suitcases. Their daughter Jean is by the car, smoking, and Barbara accuses Bill of encouraging their daughter’s habit—she is “hooked” at just fourteen years old. Bill asks Barbara if she is ready to confront her family; she tells him she isn’t. He urges her to take a second and prepare. Barbara complains about the heat. Bill asks Barbara if Violet has gotten an air conditioner yet. Barbara says there’s no way she has, and then reminds Bill of a story about her mother and a series of parakeets Violet acquired some years ago. The birds kept dying after just a couple of days, and when a salesgirl from the pet store came by, she told Violet that the birds were dying from the heat. Barbara remarks that even birds meant to survive in the tropics cannot stay alive in this house.
As Barbara and Bill arrive on the porch, it is clear that Barbara does not want to be there, no matter the circumstances. She complains of the heat—again, a symbol of the crushing physical and emotional oppression she knows she is in for—and tells an anecdote with illustrates how the heat (and Violet’s violent, irresponsible behavior) have claimed actual lives in the past. Even parakeets—tropical animals—were felled by the outstanding heat once they became trapped in the Weston household.
Barbara cannot believe she is home on the Plains once again—a place she and Bill see as empty and “creepy.” As they joke about the “spiritual affliction” of the place, Bill tries to touch Barbara’s neck, but she shakes him off, telling him she’s having a hot flash. Jean joins them on the porch, and together, all three of them enter the house.
Barbara’s hot flashes will, throughout the play, correspond when moments become too emotionally heated for her. It is clear from her refusal of Bill’s touch that something less than pleasant is going on between the two of them.
Mattie Fae greets Bill, Barbara, and Jean enthusiastically. Mattie Fae remarks on how big Jean has gotten, and comments on the size of her breasts—the last time Mattie Fae saw Jean, she recalls, Jean looked like a “little boy.” Violet comes down the stairs and bursts into tears when she sees Barbara. She runs into her daughter’s arms. Barbara holds Violet while she weeps. Violet recovers after a moment, and then Barbara greets Ivy. She remarks on how beautiful Ivy looks, and Bill agrees that Ivy looks great.
From this scene, it becomes evident that many members of the Weston family have not seen each other in years. Much is made of Jean’s entry into puberty—she is a woman now, in the eyes of her family, and as such is about to take her rightful place in the ranks of a chaotic world she knows little about.
Violet pulls Barbara and Bill into the living room, and asks them to help her with paperwork which, it’s implied, pertains to Beverly’s will. Barbara tells Violet that they can get to it later, but Violet seems intent on attending to it now. Bill assures Violet he’ll sort everything out soon. Mattie Fae and Charlie announce that they are going to leave and drive the hour and a half back to their own house—they left in a rush and didn’t get anyone to look after the dogs. Plus, there isn’t room for them to stay. When Barbara asks why they can’t stay in the attic, Violet replies that there’s an “Indian who lives in [the] attic.” Barbara, confused, asks Violet to explain. Johnna enters the room, introducing herself and welcoming Barbara home.
Barbara’s first few minutes back in her childhood home are overwhelming and disorienting. Violet is prioritizing important paperwork which may or may not be about Beverly’s will—it seems that Violet is behaving as if Beverly is already dead. In addition to her mother’s increasingly erratic behavioral changes, there is a relative stranger in the house—Johnna’s presence is symbolic of a changing of the guard, so to speak, in the alchemy of the Weston household.