To plunder another relationship, to capture the dependency of another person and then to abandon them is nothing short of a ruthless act of desecration, a murder of the soul.  Seducers, adulterers, philanderers, insecure lovers who need another’s desire so much they will steal it, are very dangerous people.  They destroy marriages, deplete the lives of the love object, and can even cause injury and death. They should be issued with a government health warning and wear it at all times.  

In Dangerous Obsession, the play so skilfully crafted by N.J.Crisp,  the horror of what can ensue from a secret love affair, uncoils with the stealth of a python.  We know there is something wrong when John, an unassuming little man, clutching his brief case, calls on Sally in her luxury home one summer’s afternoon.  

She has just come in from the pool and is still in her swimsuit.  She assumes John is a salesman.  He looks like one.  She tries to get rid of him.  But John is not a salesman.  He knows her.  They sat next to each other at a conference in Torquay the previous year. Her husband, Mark, danced with his wife.  She can hardly remember the occasion, wonders whether John is some kind of stalker and reaches for her wrap.  As she puts it on, John shuts the door to the patio and secretly pockets the key.  Out of politeness, Sally offers John a drink.   He asks her whether she has children.  Sally says that Mark does not want a family yet.  John says he has some business he wants to discuss with Mark.   

At that point Mark arrives, tired and not a little put out that John is there. He is polite but dismissive and tells John to make an appointment to see him at his office.  John refuses and says he won’t take up much of his time.  He starts to talk about a tragic accident affecting his wife.  Mark pulls a face and gestures to his wife to get rid of John.  But John asks for another drink and tells them more about the accident. 

It happened a month ago – on a country road in the New Forest.  He rummages in his briefcase and produces the love letter he found in Jane’s bag after the accident.  It is written to somebody called Mark.  He enquires casually what Sally and Mark were doing that weekend.  Sally told him she had to go to her mother’s in Norwich.  Mark said he went to Jersey.  ‘Which hotel?’, John asks.   

‘The Grand.’ Mark replies and then says ‘Look here old boy, there are lots of people called Mark.  I was not with your wife.  Right?    

John produces another piece of paper, a bill from the hotel where Jane had stayed in Bournemouth.  It itemises a telephone call made from her room.  He passes it to Sally.  ‘Is that your mother’s number.’  Sally gazes and nods.   

At this point, Mark gets annoyed and asks John to go.  John reaches in his bag and pulls out a gun.  ‘I call this my lie detector’.  He locks the other door and closes the curtains.  Mark thinks the gun is a bluff and tries to get it from him.  John fires twice, shooting the drink out of Mark’s hand.   

At the beginning of the second act,  John asks Sally and Mark about their marriage.  Sally admits it is not perfect.  Mark has had other affairs.  She had a revenge affair, but it didn’t make her feel good.   

John then reads the letter from Jane; she sounds distressed.  Mark admitted she was upset that he wouldn’t leave Sally.  Sally says that Mark would never leave her because the house, Mark’s business is funded entirely from her money.  ‘If he left, he would have nothing.’  

John asks Mark if he was responsible for the crash.  Mark denies it.  John tells him he is lying and threatens to shoot him.  Mark backs away and falls behind the sofa, screaming in terror.  John fires three times, but they are blanks.  There is one bullet left.   

Mark staggers to his feet helped by Sally and collapses in the chair.  John asks him again if he was in the car.  Mark denies it.  John puts the gun against the side of his head and cocks it.  Mark breaks down and admits everything.  Yes, he was driving Jane home, she was screaming and crying, he had been drinking,  it was raining, he was going too fast.  A car came the other way, he swerved, skidded, hit the other car and crashed.  He reached over to Jane.  Her face was covered in blood, she was unconscious and she didn’t seem to be breathing.  He pulled her across into the drivers seat, grabbed his bag and ran away, hitched a lift to Southampton and got a taxi home. He ignored the other car.  John informed him that the passenger, an elderly woman, was badly injured and because of the delay in calling an ambulance, she died.   

John then asks Mark and Sally what they thought would be a suitable recompense.  Sally asks how much he wants.  ‘Oh no, I don’t want money.  I was thinking of something more interesting. I was thinking that since Mark had Jane, perhaps I could have you and he can watch.’ Mark pleads with Sally to do it. 

She removes her wrap and starts to undo the strap of her swimming costume, but John tells her to put her wrap back on.  He has got what he wants.  He has Mark’s admission, he has exposed his cowardice and treachery, he has shown Sally that Mark would even sacrifice her to save his skin.  He can now leave them to sort out the debris of their lives. 

In the final twist of the plot, he reconnects the telephone and makes a call to Jane.  She did not die after all.  She remained in a coma for several weeks and still suffers from the after effects of severe brain injury.  Mark grabs the gun and tries to shoot John.  It clicks six times.  The chambers are empty.   

When a course of action is founded on betrayal and destruction, it continues that way until the final denouement.  Mark and Jane’s selfish obsession destroyed the lives of the innocent couple in the other car,  killed Jane’s baby, turned her into an invalid and exposed the make believe of Sally’s marriage.  Five lives have been damaged forever.  Crisp’s play is a parable for our time.    In a narcissistic age, where so many people seem to tire of their life partners too quickly and  seek self gratification in the thrill of illicit sex and secret affairs, social values like loyalty, responsibility and fidelity are sacrificed.  Without the values that build trust, life loses its meaning, the soul is depleted, innocent lives are destroyed.  Therein lies the route to depression, the iconic ailment of the age.   

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