Barbara pulls down a hide-a-bed in the living room and begins setting up her and Bill’s “room.” Bill comes in from the study, carrying a thin book—a hardback edition of Beverly’s most famous book. Bill remarks on how cool it is to find a hardback version, but Barbara insists the book is not such a big deal. Bill contradicts her, insisting that it is a huge deal, and wondering about the pressure Beverly must have felt in the wake of its publication. Barbara attempts to change the subject, asking if Jean went to bed, but Bill brings the book up again. Barbara, losing her temper, yells at Bill to shut up about the book. She condemns him for being obsessed with awards and critical opinion—he is in his “male menopause,” she says, and as such is preoccupied with “creative question[s]” and interested in “screwing” younger women.
In this scene, Barbara and Bill are alone on stage for the first time—and their resentments towards one another begin spilling over. It becomes clear that Bill has been pursuing an affair with a younger woman, and a student to boot—for this reason, Barbara sees her husband’s interest and excitement about her father’s work as a transgression and a symptom of how Bill has been corrupted by the academic world just as her own father was.
Bill comments that Violet has “a way of putting [Barbara] in attack mode.” Barbara insists that her mother doesn’t have anything to do with her own rage. She accuses Bill of being a narcissist and ignoring her pain. Bill begs Barbara to back off—they have enough to deal with, he says, with her parents, and don’t need to revisit their recent personal misery. Barbara insists they never “visited” things in the first place—she feels as if the rug has been pulled out from under her. Bill berates Barbara for attacking him with so much else going, telling her that the discussion deserves their care. They would be better served having it, he says, after Beverly returns home. Barbara tells Bill that her father is dead, and then gets into bed and turns onto her side, facing away from Bill.
Bill points out that Barbara is on edge because of the tense situation at home—and has been further riled up by her mother’s vicious tendencies. Barbara, though, wants to lean into her own pain and salt her own wounds. Bill tries hard to get Barbara to see that doing so is ill-advised, and attempts to calm her down by reminding her of the situation at hand. Barbara sees things very differently than Bill, though; she believes her family situation is hopeless, and seems to know in her bones that her father is already far beyond their help.