Peter Ustinov, the British actor and playwright, and I happened to discuss different methods of presenting a divorce problem to an English, a French and an American theater audience.
To give an example, let's make up a scene from a play as the English would do it:
George: There's something I've been meaning to ask you for some time (about 2 1/2 acts in fact).
Jessie: (Hard) Yes, George.
George: I . . . that is . . . I don't know how you're going to take this.
Jessie: I think I know what you're going to say.
George: How uncanny.
Jessie: But it's too late now.
George: I suppose it is. Whiskey?
Jessie: I don't mind if I do.
George: I imagine it was my fault in a way.
Jessie: Don't blame yourself, George.
Jessie: Just a dash.
George: How's that? (holding up the glass)
Jessie: Dear George. That's fine.
George: You never did like it with ice.
George: Well, thank God for that.
Jessie: Why do you say that?
George: There is no more ice. (sits down heavily) No more anything.
"The French, on the other hand, would play the scene differently," said Mr. Ustinov.
Jessie: Oui, mon petit chou.
George: I have something to tell you. I have a mistress.
Jessie: You are only telling me something I have known for two years.
George: No, I mean a new mistress.
Jessie: But, what will happen to Maria?
George: I don't know.
Jessie: The poor thing. I'll take her to the collections.
George: (reproachfully) Please do. You never were very nice to her.
Jessie: (more reproachfully) You never brought her around.
George: I suppose you are right.
Jessie: Is she much prettier than I am?
George: Much prettier.
Jessie: I'm glad. Otherwise I would have been jealous.
George: Where are you going?
Jessie: I'll see you next week.
George: Is Pierre in town?
Jessie: I don't know, but Leon is.
George: Who's Leon?
Jessie: My, how possessive you've become.
"The Americans, on the other hand, are more for the stark realism of the thing," said Mr. Ustinov. "A saxophone must be playing nine blocks away, and a kid is crying across the road."
George: Jessie, I have something to tell you.
Jessie: I want a divorce.
George: But you haven't heard what I've got to say.
Jessie: Oh, for heaven's sakes, we're grown-up people. Let's not behave like children.
George: But for crying out loud. . .
Jessie: Mother said it would happen this way.
George: But . . .
Jessie: Let's not discuss it . It's vulgar and I'm not interested in the details.
George: Will you shut up. . .
Jessie: Don't raise your voice George.
George: I just wanted to say . . .
Jessie: Whatever it is, I'm sure the lawyers will be able to settle it.
George: Settle what?
Jessie: Let's be friends. The children will never have to know.
George: Where are you going?
Jessie: Reno, Mexico City, Tucson. I'll send you a postcard. And I hope you'll be very happy.
George: (sitting down heavily) Never thought about it. Maybe I will.