Synopsis

Act 1

1990: In the Duchess’s West End hotel room, an electrician amuses the chambermaid with a crude mockery of the Duchess that involves a vulgar rendition of a popular song about her from the 1930s. The Duchess, however, walks in on them, and while they continue to ridicule her, she prepares for the Duke’s arrival and reminisces about her younger beauty. A figure arrives at the door.

1934: The Duchess — known presently as Mrs. Freeling, as she has yet to marry into royalty — awaits the arrival of the Duke in a country house, where her confidante and a lounge lizard meanwhile chatter about her recent divorce from Mr. Freeling. The lounge lizard entertains the Duchess by singing her the popular song heard parodied in the previous scene, and the Duke finally arrives with a flourish.

1936: A priest marries the Duke and Duchess at a lavish wedding reception, while an on-looking waitress admires the fancy and excessive lifestyle of the wealthy.

1953: On a visit to London at the time of the royal coronation, the Duchess calls for room service in her hotel suite. She proceeds to seduce the waiter. She tips the waiter, who reveals that this was not a first-time encounter.

1953: After leaving the Duchess at a party, the Duke accepts a visit from his mistress, who, while flirting with him, divulges rumors of the Duchess’s recurrent affairs. The Duke frantically searches through his wife’s belongings until he finds Polaroid evidence of her infidelity.

Act 2

1955: As the divorce case nears its end, two rubberneckers offer their commentary on the extravagant trial. The judge casts his verdict and ridicules the Duchess for her lack of morals. In a pathetic act of self-preservation, the Duchess departs by foot.

1970: A society journalist interviews the Duchess in the hotel room where she now resides. Her conversation fluctuates widely, from offering health and beauty tips to railing against the state of the modern world. A delivery boy meanwhile arrives with stacks of hatboxes and finally presents the Duchess her bill.

1990: In a continuation of the opening scene, the figure presents himself in the Duchess’s hotel room as the hotel manager and informs the Duchess that since she cannot pay her bill, she must leave the hotel within the hour. After he retreats, she reflects on her childhood and life. When the manager returns to find her still there, the Duchess attempts to seduce him into letting her stay; he rejects her advances. She tries to play a record of her song, but is forced to depart to only the scratching sounds of the needle.

Epilogue: The electrician and chambermaid emerge from under the bed and prepare the room for the next hotel guest.