ACT I Liza Elliott, editor of the fashion magazine Allure, has come to consult Dr. Brooks,
a psychiatrist. She insists she is physically well and normal in her behaviour, but has been suffering from seizures of depression
and fatigue. Asked by Dr. Brooks to describe anything that comes to mind, however insignificant, Liza mentions a song learned
in childhood, which now haunts her continually in moments of terror because she cannot complete it. She begins to hum the
song's initial motif, and we are carried for the first time into Liza's dream world.
|Liza with Dr. Brooks
She is no longer the conservatively dressed and prim editor but a radiant beauty to whom all pay homage.
The scene melts away, and Dr. Brooks points out that in this dream Liza sees herself as a glamorous woman, unlike her appearance
in real life. Another contradiction is that while Liza tells other women how to be beautiful in her magazine, she herself
does not take advantage of this advice.
Back in Liza's office, a screen star, Randy Curtis, has come to be photographed for the magazine.
After he leaves, Kendall Nesbitt, publisher of Allure and Liza's lover, arrives to inform her that his wife has finally agreed
to divorce him and that they will soon be free to marry. This news does not have the expected exhilarating effect on Liza.
On the contrary, she feels depressed and faint. Dismissing Kendall abruptly, she locks the door and falls wearily on a couch. Suddenly she begins to hum the child's tune, and drifts
into another dream.
|The Saga of Jenny
In the dream which starts in her girlhood, she is going to marry Kendall Nesbitt, but Randy Curtis intervenes
with a passionate declaration of love. In her indecision, she recalls a school play and suddenly the wedding ceremony degenerates
into a nightmare.
At her next session with Dr. Brooks, Liza reveals that her preference for simple clothes dates from
early childhood. She says she has a dinner date with Randy which she intends to break. Dr. Brooks points out that her fetish
for plainness is a refusal to compete with other women, and that her dread of marriage comes from the fear of having Kendall all to herself. These revelations
so anger Liza hat she rushes impetuously out of the office. The next morning Liza comes late to her office, where a new issue
of Allure is going to press. When Kendall enters, she tells him she does not want to marry him. She
is also abrupt with her advertising manager, Charley Johnson, who, because Liza is "married to her desk", has no chance for
advancement and is leaving. Randy comes to take her to dinner. She had forgotten she had made this date, but decides to dress
elegantly for the first time and join Randy for a night on the town.
|The Circus Dream
Liza is in her office the following afternoon, where she cannot decide whether the cover design for
the next issue will be a standard Easter cover or a circus scene. Magically the circus scene comes to life, with Russell Paxton,
the photographer of Allure, as the ringmaster. The main event is a trial in which Liza is tried for her inability to make
up her mind. Kendall Nesbitt gives evidence, there is an irrelevant but hilarious interruption and finally Liza tries to defend
herself, but in vain.
That evening, Liza returns to Dr. Brooks and tells him that she has experienced once again the hurt
and humiliation of her childhood. As she talks, Liza is carried back to the times when she was made to feel unattractive by
her father, then scorned by her "prince" in a school play, and finally abandoned by her beau at the high school prom. Dr.
Brooks emphasises that Liza, having lost a succession of boyfriends, sought refuge in being plain; that as a woman she has
been denying herself this form of feminine identity. The lifting of the mental block brings release and she sings for the
first time in its entirety the haunting song she has been trying to remember.
One week later at the office, Liza is in better spirits than she has been in months, and Randy urges
her to marry him. She has the strength he needs, he confesses, since he himself is actually weak. Liza asks for time to think
this proposal over, when Charley enters to say goodbye. For the first time Liza recognises a salient truth that has so long
been eluding her: it is Charley that she loves. She asks him to stay and share the stewardship of the magazine.