Gilbert's one-act farce Allow Me to Explain, his first "straight play," opened on 4 November 1867. The main characters are Mr. Cadderby; his wife Mrs. Anna Maria Cadderby; his daughter by an earlier marriage, Amelia Ann; his nephew, Ferdinand Boker, who is engaged to Amelia Ann; and one John Smith. (There are actually three John Smiths, but only one figures in the plot.)
The play is set in a hotel corridor, where three men are living: John Smith, John Smith and John Smith. Mr. Cadderby arrives with his wife, daughter, and nephew, looking for John Smith, and is pleased to find that he has his choice of three. It seems that James Smith, a distant relative of Cadderby, has settled property worth £300 a year on him for as long as James Smith's nephew, John, lives; and Mr. Cadderby wants to check up on this nephew, since his income depends on John Smith's remaining alive.
After getting kicked out by the first two John Smiths, Cadderby bumps into a young man and challenges him to a duel--but proposes his nephew, Boker, to fight in his place. Boker is at first strangely reluctant to risk his life defending his uncle's honor, but Cadderby offers to plant a willow on Boker's grave and water it with his tears. Moved by this, Boker agrees to a duel with the stranger, suggesting that they fight with pistols at a hundred paces--or at twenty paces with swords.
But the situation soon changes soon changes. The stranger saves Cadderby from a runaway cab (off stage), and turns out to be none other than the John Smith on whose life his income depends. First Cadderby must forestall the impending duel. Then he discovers, to his horror, that Smith is determined to die because of his hopeless passion for a married woman--a certain Anna Maria Cadderby.
Cadderby questions his wife and learns that John Smith has been writing to her and she has been rejecting him. He tried to talk her into giving Smith some encouragement--just enough to keep him from committing suicide. Mrs. Cadderby meets with Smith and informs him that "your infatuation has conquered my resolution," that she will elope with him abroad, and that her love is "resistless, overwhelming." Smith is overwhelmed swiftly (for one thing, he doesn't want to go abroad), and his ardor for the Amazonian Mrs. Cadderby wanes.
He then encounters Amelia Ann, Cadderby's daughter (remember her?), whom he had once met at a ball, and decides to marry her instead. Cadderby has no objection and breaks off his daughter's engagement to Boker, but the latter threatens to shoot his rival, which would bring Cadderby's income to an end. Just then a letter arrives for Cadderby: James Smith, John's uncle (remember him?), has changed his mind: Cadderby's income will depend not on John Smith's life but on Amelia Ann's. So Cadderby breaks off his daughter's new engagement and restores her to Boker--whereupon Amelia threatens to drown herself, so he recants and gives her back to John Smith. Boker insists that he will expire from grief if he is deprived of Amelia Ann, but Cadderby repeats his promise to plant a tree on his tomb and water it with his tears. Boker declares that this "more than reconciles me to my fate," so all ends happily.
Page modified 22 Aug 2014