Act 2. Scene 1. The stage direction reads, "The house has been manifestly refreshed, presumably by Johnna's hand. The dull, dusty finish has been replaced by the transparent gleam of function." Beverly has just been buried, and it is three in the afternoon. Violet is in Beverly's study holding a bottle of pills, "relatively sober." Karen, the youngest Weston, is in the dining room with Barbara, and Johnna is in the kitchen.
Violet speaks to the absent Beverly, taking pills as she does so. She looks at the dedication in Meadowlark, and tells her dead husband that the only thing she can dedicate to him is their daughters. "You made your choice. You made this happen. You answer for this...not me. Not me. This is not mine," she says.
Karen is talking to Barbara about all the expectations she had as a young person, her dreams of marrying someone, and the fact that she's never found the right guy. She refers to the fact that she's been such a seeker, that she was even a Scientologist at one point, and that one day she started working as a real estate agent and that's how she met Steve, her current boyfriend. Steve is 10 years older than her and she refers to him as a "country club Chamber of Commerce guy." They are going to go to Belize on their honeymoon.
Johnna comes in with iced tea and tells the sisters she's making chicken, green bean casserole, and fried potatoes. Barbara's relieved she made green bean casserole since the one Mattie Fae brings is always "inedible." Karen continues to talk about her wedding, which is on New Years Day in Miami, where she now lives. Karen tells Barbara that she's been unhappy for much of her adult life and that she'd like to be close again now that she is happier. Barbara is a little more impatient and wants to talk about what they will do with their mother.
Upstairs, Violet tries to get Ivy to put on a dress instead of a suit, as Mattie Fae looks at old photographs. "You look like a magician's assistant," Violet says to Ivy, even as Ivy insists that she wants to have her own style. As they argue, Mattie Fae talks about the fact that her son Little Charles wants to move to New York City, and complains that he slept through Beverly's funeral. She complains that Little Charles is 37 and doesn't know how to drive, but Ivy defends him, saying that he probably has an explanation.
Abruptly, Violet tells Ivy and Mattie Fae that she wants to get rid of her things and downsize. Mattie Fae shows Violet a picture of herself when she was young and notes that she is beautiful. Violet goes on a diatribe about the fact that women are only beautiful when they are young. Mattie Fae disagrees, but Violet is intent on believing that women are only sexy when they are young.
Violet tries to get Ivy to put on the dress, but she refuses. When Violet needles her more, Ivy tells her mother that she already has a boyfriend. Mattie Fae and Violet question her about it, but Ivy refuses to give any more information, leaving the room. As Jean watches television, Bill and Steve, Karen's fiancé, come in. Steve tells Bill about his "finance" job, which seems to Bill to have some rather unethical qualities, given that it's security work in the Middle East.
Barbara enters asking for wine and notices that Jean is watching the 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera. "...You were so very distraught about the start time of your grandpa's funeral. Was this your concern? Getting back here in time to watch the Phantom of the fucking Opera?" Barbara asks, skeptically. Bill follows Barbara into the kitchen.
Steve approaches Jean and talks to her about the various adaptations of The Phantom of the Opera. He asks her how old she is, guessing that she's 17. When she tells him she's 15, he tells her she's not a kid anymore, then reveals that when he was 15, he worked in a slaughterhouse to put food on the table. Suddenly he smells something and sniffs Jean, noting the smell of weed. He flirts with her and tells her he can get them weed.
When he is on the floor with her, Karen comes in and asks if he got cigarettes. He forgot, but Jean gives them a few. Karen takes Steve out back to look at the old fort, and before he leaves the room, Steve touches Jean's face playfully.
On the porch, Little Charles and Charlie are arriving. As Little Charles weeps about the death of Beverly and the fact that he missed the funeral, Charlie tells him to stand up straight and not be so hard on himself. In the dining room, Bill and Barbara fight, with Barbara accusing Bill of being absent with Jean. "I'm sick of being fair! I've seen where being fair gets me! I'm sick of the whole notion of the enduring female! GROW UP!" Barbara says. Bill tells Barbara that he loves her, but she's a pain in the ass, then goes out to the porch.
Karen and Steve come in, running into Barbara. Little Charles, Charlie, and Jean watch television, as Mattie Fae enters and greets them. Ivy and Violet come down the stairs. Different conversations between these different groups break out all at once. Ivy begs Violet not to talk about her boyfriend, Mattie Fae and Little Charles discuss the fact that he overslept, and Karen and Steve ask Barbara if she's alright.
They all sit down to eat at the dining table. Bill and Jean get in an argument, while everyone tries to figure out who will have to sit at the kid's table with Jean. Mattie Fae wants Little Charles to sit there, but Johnna offers to sit there instead. Ivy goes to the porch to greet Little Charles as he brings in Mattie Fae's casserole, and they kiss. Ivy warns him that she told her mother she's dating someone and he tells her that he told his mother he's considering moving to New York.
At the dinner table, Barbara calls to her mom to come to the table and Little Charles enters with the casserole. Ivy takes her seat, and as Little Charles brings the casserole into the kitchen, he drops it. Mattie Fae is upset, and they settle in to eat.
Violet enters and makes a comment about the fact that the men have removed their coats. They all begrudgingly put their coats back on, as Violet asks Barbara to say grace. Barbara suggests that Charlie ought to do it as the patriarch of the family.
In this section of the play, we meet Karen, yet another of the Weston sisters. While Ivy is somewhat sheltered and homely, Barbara neurotic and proactive, Karen is the most disconnected of the sisters, a wayward seeker who is hung up on her new fiancé and seems to be the kind of person who always has a different philosophy of life and never settles down long enough to be understood. She and Barbara could not be more different, Barbara exhibiting a tightly wound pragmatism while Karen talks about her life in Miami and all of the different men she's been with.
This section of the play splits up into many different sections. We see different characters interacting in different ways, and they often speak to each other differently depending on who is around. Before we see the family's response to Little Charles, we see him on the porch with his father, who encourages him not to be so hard on himself. When Karen is out of the room, Steve is predatory towards the underage Jean. In front of the family, Barbara and Bill are the image of a stable relationship, even though their marriage is falling apart behind the scenes. The multiplicity and complication of family life is put on full display in this section of the play, as we see various factions behaving differently in different scenarios.
In the character of Barbara, we also begin to see the ways that Violet's mercurial personality has rubbed off on her offspring. Barbara is maybe the closest person the audience has to a protagonist in this sprawling ensemble, and we are invested in her difficult plight as both a jilted wife and the most responsible of the Weston daughters. In the aftermath of her father's death, she begins to assume her parents' roles in both positive and negative ways. She fights the people who love her and are trying to help, picks at the things that dissatisfy her, and tries to hold together their crumbling family unit, given that her parents are no longer able to do so.
Playwright Tracy Letts reveals the cacophony of family life not only thematically, but also theatrically. For instance, in this section of the play, he begins to layer interactions on top of one another. At any given moment, three conversations can be happening at once, laid out on the page like a musical score. This serves to heighten the tensions of the story, as well as show the ways that family members splinter into their own respective factions when they are together.
In this section of the play, a number of pressurized scenarios begin to take shape, certain to combust before the play's end. Barbara and Bill's separation, which has been kept secret from the family, is becoming a tenser and tenser issue between them. Mattie Fae's disappointment in Little Charles is palpable. Steve, Karen's fiancé, has already proven himself to be a major creep in his treatment of Jean. Everyone is angry with or scared of Violet, the grieving widow. Finally, we learn that Ivy and Little Charles are having an affair, before anyone else in the family has any idea. All of these situations create mounting tension on the already tense occasion of Beverly Weston's funeral meal.