Top Girls

Plot synopsis

The play opens in a restaurant, where Marlene is waiting for some friends to arrive. She is throwing a dinner party to celebrate her promotion at the employment agency where she works. As the women arrive and start the meal, they begin to talk about their lives and what they did. Each of her guests is a historical, fictional or mythical woman who faced adversity and suffered bitterly to attain her goals. Lady Nijo recalls how she came to meet the ex-Emperor of Japan, and her encounter with him. While the rest of the women understand the encounter as rape, she explains that she saw it as her destiny: the purpose for which she was brought up. Within the context of Pope Joan's narrative, the women discuss religion. At this point the waitress, who punctuates the scene with interruptions, has already brought the starter and is preparing to serve the main courses. All the women except Marlene discuss their dead lovers. They also recall the children that they bore and subsequently lost. Nijo's baby was of royal blood, so he couldn't be seen with her. Pope Joan was stoned to death when it was discovered that she had given birth and was therefore female and committing heresy. Griselda was told that her two children had been killed, in a cruel test of her loyalty to her husband. After dessert, the women sit drinking brandy, unconsciously imitating their male counterparts.

Act Two, Scene One begins with two girls, Angie and Kit, playing in Angie's backyard. Angie is abrasive and argumentative with both her friend and her mother, Joyce. She and Kit fight and Angie says she is going to kill her mother. Kit doesn't believe her, and they start to talk about sex. Angie accuses Kit's mother of sleeping around, but it becomes apparent that neither of them know what they are talking about; Kit is only 12 and Angie is quite immature for her sixteen years.

In Scene Two, the action turns to the "Top Girls" employment agency, where Nell and Win are sharing the latest office gossip, until Marlene arrives. They then express their congratulations to Marlene for getting the top job. The scene then shifts to Marlene at the agency where she works, interviewing a girl named Jeanine. Marlene takes a fancy to her even though she seems lost and helpless. She doesn't know what type of job she wants—only that she wants to travel and be with her husband.

Win meets Louise, a client who after conscientiously working for many years at the same firm is deciding to quit. She slowly opens up to Win, describing how she had dedicated her life to her job, working evenings at the expense of her social life, without reward. She has found herself at 46, with no husband or life outside of work, in a position where she trains men who are consistently promoted over her. The action then switches to Marlene's office where Angie arrives, having taken the bus from Joyce's house in the country. She is shy and awkward and her presence is clearly an unwelcome surprise to Marlene, who nevertheless offers to let Angie stay at her place overnight. They are interrupted by Mrs. Kidd, the wife of Howard, who was passed up for promotion in favor of Marlene. Mrs. Kidd tells Marlene how much the job means to her husband, how devastated he is, and questions whether she should be doing a 'man's job'. It becomes clear that she is asking Marlene to step down and let her husband have the job instead, which Marlene firmly declines to do. She tries to clear Mrs. Kidd out of her office, but Mrs. Kidd only becomes more insistent until Marlene finally screams at her to "piss off". Meanwhile, Shona arrives in Nell's office looking for job opportunities. At first Nell is impressed by her surprisingly accomplished resume, but quickly figures out that Shona is underaged and making it all up as she goes. At the same time, Angie is having a conversation with Win about Angie's aunt and Win's life, but falls asleep in the middle of Win's story. Nell comes in with the news that Howard has had a heart attack. Marlene is informed but is unperturbed, and Nell responds "Lucky he didn't get the job if that's what his health's like".

The final act takes place a year earlier in Joyce's kitchen. Marlene, Joyce and Angie share stories with each other. Angie is very happy that her aunt (Marlene) is there, since she looks up to her and thinks that she is wonderful. Shortly before Angie goes to bed, Marlene pulls a bottle of whiskey out of her bag to drink with Joyce. As they drink, they discuss what is to become of Angie. With brutal honesty, Joyce tells Marlene that Angie is neither particularly bright nor talented and it is unlikely that she will ever make anything of herself. Marlene tries to brush this off, saying that Joyce is just running Angie down, as this sober reality contradicts Marlene's conservative mentality. It is revealed that Angie is actually Marlene's daughter, whom she abandoned to Joyce's care, possibly causing Joyce to lose the child she was carrying from the stress.

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